Piranesi Book Review


Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.


PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke is a wonderfully written magical realism story comprised of a man named Piranesi’s journal entries. Piranesi’s journal shows us the strange and seemingly aware labyrinth where he lives with a sense of awe and respect. From the birds’ seasonal nesting habits to the tides, to the ancient statues and skeletons he describes, Piranesi evokes a calm and curiosity through his writings that is invitingly infectious.

With each journal entry, we see holes in Piranesi’s understanding of things, particularly when interacting with the OTHER. The OTHER clearly knows more than Piranesi about his situation; however, he is content with keeping our protagonist in the dark. This begins with one of many small curiosities that build throughout the story. More secrets become clear when the peace of the labyrinth is disturbed by the knowledge of a 16th person appearing in the world. The OTHER calls the 16th person an enemy, but does not say why or who they are. Piranesi finds this odd as he would rather enjoy making a new friend and cannot help his curiosity as to who the 16th person is… and thus the greater mystery begins to unravel.

Clarke’s ability to create whimsical mystery within her story is unique and beautiful. Though there is little in the way of plot and even fewer characters she manages to keep you engrossed from the moment you open the book. At times Piranesi’s innocence is confusing or frustrating because we as the reader understand much of what he naively guesses at, but that’s precisely the point. Seeing how Piranesi’s mind works when confronted with a new or strange thing in his halls is fascinating and at times heart-warming. How would someone like Piranesi keep time if he had no idea what a month or a year was? How would he perceive the OTHER’s finely tailored clothes when he only had the tattered remnants of old clothes? All of these insights into Piranesi’s deductive abilities are wonderfully humbling.

In saying that, the story is never boring or devoid of intrigue. There is still plenty of mystery and high stakes to keep readers entertained while on the edge of their seats. I supposed PIRANESI has a similar feeling to watching a Studio Ghibli film if it were set in a Greek mythos-type setting. The pace is steady and comfortable, whilst still engaging, and encourages us to consider the human spirit similar to the beloved animated Japanese films. If you aren’t a fan of Ghibli (if you even exist), then PIRANESI may not be for you, but then it doesn’t hurt to give it a read anyway to see its beautiful prose and unique delivery.

The ending for me was a combination of bitter-sweet. We now have all the answers we were looking for, and Piranesi has the option to leave the labyrinth if he so wishes. So much has happened to him that he doesn’t feel the same and can no longer look at his world (the labyrinth) with the same innocence as before. As happy as I am that almost everything works out in the end, I can’t help but mourn Piranesi’s lost innocence and eventual, unavoidable corruption by society as he returns to the world he originally came from. Seeing the snippet of his mindset after the climax of events and his final journal entry gives me some hope that he will retain most of his innocent optimism though, as it’s clear the world needs more people like Piranesi.

After reading this, I felt a need to sit outside and just stop for a moment. My mind becomes easily busy with the number of things I need to keep on top of each day and I sometimes forget to just turn off. PIRANESI through its quiet halls and humble protagonist reminded me to stop and consider what’s around me rather than what’s on my mind. I don’t know if the story will have had the same impact on its other readers, but for me, it came at a mentally and emotionally chaotic time when I needed it. I can confidently say that PIRANESI is a book I’ll likely pick up many more times over the years when I need a reminder to pause and breathe.

RATING – 5/5 stars

Publisher – Bloomsbury 2020

Author – Susanna Clarke

ISBN – 163557563X


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