“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.“
How does one even begin to summarise Piranesi? Perhaps, I think, by warning you it is best to dive into this novel with as little information as possible, for Piranesi really is best enjoyed with fresh eyes and no presuppositions.
If (like me) you’re a fan of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and are looking forward to another quintessential Susanna Clarke novel, prepare to have your expectations thrown squarely out the window — in a quintessentially Susanna Clarke way, of course. Aside from the Piranesi’s deceptively short length, this novel differs from Jonathan Strange in narrative style, approach to worldbuilding, and even structure. In fact, I believe the only similarity between the two is that Susanna Clarke has once again taken established fantasy tropes and bid them a gleeful goodbye, subverting all expectations by creating a story that is part-fantasy, part-mystery, and (somewhat) part-allegory. What I loved most of all is that while Clarke toys with this genre-bending form of storytelling, Piranesi is still firmly rooted in fantasy at the end of it all (I cannot stress enough just how much I loathe stories that plough through 500 pages of fantasy tropes only to end with “it was all a dream; we were in the real world the whole time and there’s no such thing as magic, tee hee!”).
For readers who have never read Susanna Clarke’s work before, however, it’s likely that the first few chapters might feel a little too otherworldly — to you, I say, the beauty of the House truly is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite. Though Piranesi is slow on the build-up, it is infinite in its rewards.
While the first act is almost taunting in its placidity, the second and third acts are virtually tempestuous by contrast, pushing puzzle pieces into place until you find your eyes are bleary, it’s well past midnight, and you’ve just binge-read Piranesi through the night. The payoff is worth it, and I couldn’t recommend this book enough to absolutely everyone: whether you’re a fan of fantasy, whimsy, or lyrical prose that will leave an indelible impression on you for days to come, please, stop everything you’re doing and read this beautiful novel!