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May 12, 2021

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke ~ a Review

by Alison DeLuca

After Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell was published, I devoured it in huge gulps. I loved the imagination behind Clarke's novel of the Napoleonic Wars - fought in an England where there was Magick, both old and new. If you haven't read it yet, and you like history as well as fantasy, I highly recommend Jonathon Strange. (The Netflix series is excellent as well.)

And then I waited for another novel from Clarke... and waited. And waited. Every so often, I would do a Google search, hoping that she had somehow produced another book in secret.

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Finally, that wait paid off. Piranesi appeared, seemingly out of nowhere (much like the magical water ships in Strange and Norrell.)

Cover of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, showing a faun statue

Piranesi is a seemingly simple story, that of a person who lives inside an immense House filled with statues, clouds, birds, and the sea. Piranesi spends his time fishing, writing his journals that compose the novel, and communicating with the only other living inhabitant of the place, an older man only known as The Other.

There are other inhabitants, but they are skeletons. Piranesi keeps a careful count of the inhabitants, making it 15: himself, The Other, and 13 small piles of bones.

And then number 16 arrives, and his world is turned upside-down.

Clarke obviously drew inspiration from Giovanni Piranesi, an 18th-century artist who drew a series of 16 massive and mysterious prisons. (You can see them here.) 

She also alludes to the Narnia series in Piranesi. In the House, there's a statue of a Faun. In Piranesi's journals, he finds references to Ketterley, a character from The Magician's Nephew

On the surface, Piranesi is a story of a character trapped in an alternate world. However, since the author is Clarke, there's much more than that - a novel of prison, mental and otherwise, and how they become entire worlds. It's about the cost of leaving that which is beloved and familiar to go outside - a theme I found reminiscent of our own lives as we all emerge from our quarantine.

Clarke's writing is very simple, not the more stylized language she employed in Strange and Norrell. And yet she still evokes an amazing universe, vast and filled with mystery, much like her own land behind the mirrors.

If you enjoy fantasy and want a quick read that delivers much more than what lies on the surface, I highly recommend Piranesi.

Buy Piranesi at Amazon

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey. You can find her at 

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