Book Review: Piranesi

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

I had expected that after a gap of sixteen years since Susanna Clarke’s thick and engaging tome, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, that we were getting another fantasy of epic size. What arrived last month in the form of Piranesi was just a little under 250 pages. Yet what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in depth of both theme and world-building.

Piranesi lives in the House. The House is Piranesi’s entire world, composed of infinite rooms on several levels, with the rising tides of oceans on the lower floors and the clouds and sky on the floors above. The book takes the form of his journal – and Piranesi is an obsessive diarist – as he goes about his daily routines: fishing, caring for the bones of the House’s previous occupants, and assisting the Other (the only other resident of the House) with his magical endeavors. Everything is routine until the day the Other reveals that there is another resident of the House and this resident means them both harm. I’ll say nothing else about what unfolds. This is a book best experienced first-hand. It is, hands down, my favorite book of this year (and it’s late enough in the year that I feel confident in leaving it on the top of my list). It demands multiple readings, both to savor the language and to look for the clues missed on the first read. In fact, I found myself reading the closing chapter through three or four times I found myself so gobsmacked by it.

Piranesi was worth the wait, and I’ll be reading it again, I’m sure, while I wait for Clarke’s next bit of magic.

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