Friday, July 16, 2021

Review Day: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

There are no major spoilers in this review.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a standalone novel that simultaneously manages to be both a comforting and uniquely different reading experience. This is my first exposure to Clarke's work.

The setting of the book is an unusual flooded house with infinite rooms and hallways featuring an endless array of statues from antiquity. Living here is the titular main character, who adores the house and lives to explore it and care for it. The author devotes the first chunk of the story to fully realizing the setting while introducing just enough seams and irregularities to imply that not all is as it seems in Piranesi's life. At times, my reading experience felt like a work of modern Interactive Fiction from the era when IF was evolving away from dungeon-based text adventures towards serious stories with literary appeal.

Clarke captures the main character's innocence and sense of wonder, contrasting it against the ethereal setting that might seem claustrophobic or even dangerous from someone else's perspective. The whole narrative has a sing-song dreamlike quality that allows the central mystery to germinate at its own pace. The ending (which arrives quickly in spite of the slow introduction) left me satisfied and just a little bit melancholy.

Piranesi would have been a perfect quarantine read had I picked it up last year. It's a beautiful, short read that might appeal to anyone who enjoyed the innocent first-person perspective of Daniel Keyes' Flowers For Algernon, the feeling of rediscovering buried truths in Hugh Howey's Silo series, or the introspective troubles of the main character in Christopher Nolan's Memento.

Final Grade: B+

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