September 17, 2020 1:07 PM - by Clarke, Susanna - Subscribe

"Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone." The new novel from the author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

The publisher's product page for the book.

Piranesi at Goodreads.

A recent article about Clarke, her new book, and her struggle with illness.

A few reviews: "the long-awaited followup to ‘Jonathan Strange” is even more magically immersive" writes Hilary Kelly at the LA Times; "Susanna Clarke’s astonishing Piranesi proves she’s one of the greatest novelists writing today" enthuses Constance Grady at Vox.com; "a very well executed piece of world-building and unraveling" concludes M.A. Orthofer at The Complete Review.

Discussion of the announcement of the novel's publication on the blue last year.
posted by misteraitch (21 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
My copy arrived at ten o'clock this morning, and by four in the afternoon I'd finished it. For me it was thoroughly absorbing & delightful. And a handsomely-designed volume too.
posted by misteraitch at 1:17 PM on September 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I found Strange & Norrell to be heavy going, is this more of the same? Not sure I can cope with heavy mental lifting this year.
posted by Marticus at 5:41 PM on September 17, 2020

Marticus - Piranesi is more easily digestible, being a much shorter book & one without the footnotes or faux-historical style of JS & Mr N. In other ways it is more of the same inasmuch as there's magic & another realm beyond our own.
posted by misteraitch at 4:39 AM on September 18, 2020

I was confused because I have a several-years-old game which includes a labyrinth called Piranesi and has no relationship to this book. Turns out both are named after a series of prints by an Italian artist in the 1700s.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:15 AM on September 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

I read this in a single sitting yesterday, and today I just could not get it out of my head. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a favorite of mine and man, this did not disappoint as a follow-up, I thought. It has some overlap in terms of themes and mood, but Piranesi was the freshest-feeling thing I've read in a while. I'll be thinking about the House for a long time, and the mind of the narrator is a very interesting place to be.

The Tempest kept coming back to me as I was reading -- Piranesi, the character, is a wonderful Caliban.
posted by Rinku at 4:06 PM on September 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

I started this book and could not put it down, finishing it in about a day. I really liked it. It's nowhere near as dense and heavy lifting as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but does draw on some of the same weird otherness as her first book. I find myself thinking of it still, two weeks and two books later. [I read it shortly after finishing The Starless Sea (which I also loved) and so I've been living in hidden houses of books and statues for a bit now...]

It's a beautifully crafted novel, with so many layers. It keeps the mystery slowly unravelling as you read, and you can feel good about figuring some things out ahead of time, way before the narrator. Someone said that it was like playing the original Myst , and I feel like that's a good description. I want to explore the House with Piranesi, learning the mysterious ways of the Tides and hanging with the statues and albatrosses. The book is melancholy and sweetly innocent, and truly unique. I hope Susanna has more books to come, I'll read them all.
posted by gemmy at 7:57 PM on September 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

I just finished this last night and have so many questions!

I really admire the restraint it takes to build up so much, and then offer just a teeny tiny little taste. In some other world, this book is a 3 volume doorstop.
posted by Phase Shifting Pulse Gate at 6:55 PM on September 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Phase Shifting Pulse Gate: what kind of questions do you have? Most of mine revolve around the identities and fates of the thirteen skeletons - most especially about the poor 'folded-up child': who was she and how did she get there? Might she have lived her whole life in the House? Also, Piranesi's question 'Do trees exist?' was left unanswered.
posted by misteraitch at 4:54 AM on September 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

The same (and also, especially about the "folded-up child"). Exactly how and why the "dishy Italian" disappeared. Why everyone but the Other stopped bothering. All of the metaphysical questions about the nature of the House and any other worlds. And of course, whether there's anything interesting in the hitherto-unexplored halls!
posted by Phase Shifting Pulse Gate at 5:29 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I DNFed The Starless Sea after loving The Night Circus because I found it just entirely to precious and twee. So when I started Piranesi, I was immediately worried that this was headed in the same direction and I was going to DNF yet anther book by an author I thought I loved, but somehow after awhile, the highly repetitive language and overly mannered style of the text seems to normalize and I got used to it and then could relax more into the story.

After the doorstop that was Strange and Norrell, it is astonishing how little there is in Piranesi. Not that it is incomplete, but it is focused. There is no B plot. There are no endless chapters spent exploring the house without advancing the plot. Despite the size of the world, the story feels almost claustrophobic, with more in common with Room than with most high concept fantasy.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:58 PM on October 11, 2020

“Claustrophobic” was a word that came to my mind, too. It is art about being trapped so long that the person that experienced the time before doesn’t seem like you anymore, and got at an emotion I’ve been having since March. If this came out two years from now I’d call it an obvious quarantine book but it somehow touches those places in spite of being written before.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:43 AM on October 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's a great interview with Clarke in which she talks quite a bit of how the book developed.

It is a bit CS Lewis (Magician's Nephew) and Borges (House of Asterion) while also being highly personal. Clarke is religious and mentions Owen Barfield too so there is also elements of Anthroposophy here.

I enjoyed it but I think anyone looking for straight fantasy will be disappointed. It is not a great adventure and we do not get endless descriptions of either the world of the House or of the Real World as seen through Matthew's eyes. Ultimately I think the book is about these two people who inhabit the same body - Matthew and Piranesi - who also inhabit different worlds that are also echoes of each other. It is also about the joys and pains of solitude.
posted by vacapinta at 11:28 AM on January 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I finished it in one gulp, which is not hard since it's such a tiny book. I loved it so much. The story is paced so well and so tightly with no dangling elements, but it doesn't come off as airless or lacking. It just moves along, giving you time to absorb the beautiful weirdness of the House and how generous of spirit Piranesi is. And I'm so happy that the ending didn't cut him off from this place entirely, and that actually he has company there now and can come and go. A lot of fantasy books I read as a kid would come to endings where the magic was cut off, and you were either in or out, and in many cases you were magically made to forget, and the resolution in this one just feels so satisfying.
posted by PussKillian at 6:52 AM on January 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

I finally got to this and could not put it down. I agree with thchemgrrl that this felt like a quarantine book, and I wonder how much my own quarantine experiences fed into how I experienced it - the combination of claustrophobia and endless possibilities if you can just let yourself go.

What struck me most was how he was never curious about the Other - where he kept getting new and clean clothes, how he ate, or even to ask for more things for himself once he knew how easily they could be had - once you can get a pair of sneakers, shouldn’t a new pair of glasses (or new arms for the ones you have) be a reasonable thing to ask for? The lack of curiosity of where the items came from, in someone otherwise so curious about all aspects of the House and its mysteries, felt off to me.

But then there would be these tiny moments, like saying that the statue of the faun reminded him of a young girl talking to a faun in a snowy forest, and I just loved how Clarke kept dropping pieces of our world into his, in ways that felt tantalizing rather than suspenseful for far longer than should have worked.

I know I’ll be revisiting this one more than once.
posted by Mchelly at 2:25 PM on July 19, 2021

The Beauty of the House is Immeasurable, its Kindness Infinite.

I loved this book. So gently disturbing. So vivid! As a student I was a bit obsessed with the work of Piranesi. And the influence of The Magicians Nephew, one of my favorite Narnia books, is strong, too.
posted by Zumbador at 6:30 AM on August 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

I absolutely loved this book. Read it in less than 24 hours. So much to unpack in its meaning, and I need to re-read the Magicians Nephew now!
posted by rogerroger at 2:11 PM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

"The meditative empathy of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi" (Constance Grady, Vox)
One of the dangers of thinking about Piranesi, Susanna Clarke’s uncommonly beautiful second novel ... is that you can get trapped in the question of whether you are interpreting too much....Piranesi has a heavily allegorical structure....But early on, Clarke makes a point of aiming her readers away from such mechanical, goal-oriented reading....The beating heart of Piranesi is Piranesi himself, the experience of watching him live his life, his profound empathy.
posted by oakroom at 6:50 PM on September 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I feel envious of my past self for having not read Piranesi and having that experience in front of her. I wish I'd read it much more slowly! Hope it's just as enjoyable on a second (and third) read.
posted by rogerroger at 4:23 PM on September 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

I love Chiwetel Ejiofor's narration on the audiobook. I first listened to it about 6 months ago, and I'm halfway on a 2nd pass through right now. I think it's no less beautiful the 2nd time, and I'm enjoying the details that I missed the 1st time. For example, the meaning of the message that was given to him by the birds, or the account given to him by the "Prophet".

The lack of curiosity of where the items came from, in someone otherwise so curious about all aspects of the House and its mysteries, felt off to me

Early in the book, he wonders why the House provides so many things to the Other when it only gives him fish and seaweed. He concludes that the House is wise to know that the Other can't provide for himself they way Piranesi can.

In a similar way, he goes for months before he wonders why he can't remember the first 30 years of his life or how he knows what a garden is when he doesn't think he's ever seen one. It seems coherent to me because the House makes it so that he can only understand that the House is everything and the House provides. He's curious about things but only things that are in the House. When the Other makes a speech to him about forgetfulness, he explains that Piranesi remembers everything about the House, but forgets everything else.
posted by polecat at 1:48 PM on December 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just finished this and loved it. Such a little jewel.

This book would make a fantastic movie. Made by someone tonally like Aronofsky or del Toro, but someone new and fresh.
posted by Nelson at 10:39 AM on February 12, 2022

This struck me painfully and beautifully as an allegory for a long illness. I don’t know if that’s just because I dimly remembered that Clarke has or has had one. But the picture it paints of the state changes: first the unbelieving, then the protesting, the attempts to undo it, then the sliding into a new normal, a strange and solitary world where you must do all your own sensemaking, where the world outside kind of vanishes for you, and you no longer recognize the person you were; and then this incredibly poignant ending in which rescue cannot undo the injury, because of course it can’t, and your job moving forward is to hold space for both selves and both worlds, somehow. This feels like a rejection of a simple narrative of health-illness-recovery.
posted by eirias at 3:39 PM on October 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

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