Spoilers ahead (kinda):
What a superb work of literature this was. An unforgettable story about a person who has forgotten. This was so richly layered, unique, and thought-provoking that I’m pretty sure this will be my go-to book recommendation to friends for some time to come.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is the story of a man living in a huge home constructed like a labyrinth. Room after room, covered with symbolic statues, wildlife, and surrounded -and fortressed in-by an unforgiving ocean. Piranesi, the title character, knows The House well, but it is so massive that even he discovers new things or new creatures, often to his delight. And because he doesn’t have a calendar, he has created his own measure of time starting from the day two albatross arrived at the labyrinth (i.e. six months since the albatross visited). But he doesn’t know much more than that about the time and space he finds himself in. How did he get there?
Piranesi is alone on this expansive property save for one other person, aptly named “The Other”, who has tasked Piranesi with helping him research the labyrinth. “The Other” is an unkind and short-tempered pendejo, something Piranesi, in his innocent and childlike wonder, doesn’t realize. And because Piranesi trusts “The Other”, and we are seeing life from his perspective, the reader doesn’t know what to make of him either. All we know is that he doesn’t stay, he comes and goes, while Piranesi never leaves. Making matters more complicated, Piranesi relies on “The Other” for supplies, even shoes. He also senses that Piranesi isn’t even his real name, just one given to him by “The Other”. So there is a ton of control and manipulation at play here. One day, Piranesi comes across someone new in the labyrinth, someone “The Other” doesn’t want him to talk to. This chance meeting sparks of a series of events that changes Piranesi’s life.
You can feel the isolation of Piranesi’s existence. Even though he doesn’t seem to mind, because it is all he knows, Clarke does an excellent job describing the emptiness of The House for the reader. Just imagine walking hall after hall in rooms filled with birds and gorgeous statues, and not knowing why or how you got there. You have to create your own calendar, make your own food, and survive the cold. You become with the ocean tides, that you know when a flood is coming. And for some odd reason, you know the statues surrounding you portray people and actions that are based on something real, but you’re not sure how you know that. And the skeletons be finds? This was a total mind boggle, and disorienting. Oh, and by the way, it turns out the labyrinth will cause you to lose your memory if you stay long enough. Hence Piranesi’s amnesia. Uncle.
Piranesi is a magnificent character, who is kind, curious. and appreciative of everything, despite the many hardships and obstacles that come his way. He respects all creatures, and has a sentimentality to him that made me love him even more. I felt oddly protective of Piranesi, and when I didn’t like how he was being treated, had to take a break from the book.
When I read up on Susanna Clarke, and discovered that she herself was in isolation due to poor health when she wrote this, it made this wonderful work of fiction even more meaningful. Because her struggle inspired her to create something quite beautiful. I wish I could hug her and thank her. Her strength through adversity gave us the masterpiece that is Piranesi.
Note: I enjoyed the audiobook of this more than any other I’ve come across. The narrator, Chiwetel Ejiofor, absolutely knocked it out of the park.
Dream cast 🎥 🍿:
Piranesi: It simply must be Chiwetel Ejiofor, no one else. I won’t hear of it.
The Other: Colin Firth
The Prophet: Jeremy Irons
Sixteen: Regina King