Piranesi • 2020 • Speculative fiction novel by Susanna Clarke


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This is a spoiler free review.

Synopsis: Piranesi is a man living in a world of its own, a huge palast with hundreds of rooms filled with statues, and at the low level the sea’s tides washing in. He can’t remember his past but keeps track in note books. He lives of dried seaweed and fish, exploring the rooms. There are exactly fifteen people known to him in this world, and thirteen of them are dead, only the Other man talks to him twice a week.  

Review: This novel is a puzzle which unfolds as the reader gets to understand more of Piranesi’s world.

Piranesi is a scientific man, always optimistic, and friendly to each and everything. One could describe him as a simpleton at first, but he is just happy with his world, and he thinks through his discoveries, is resourceful, and takes action when necessary. The setting is very strange in a psychedelic sense, though charming in its own ways.

I’m a fan of Susanne Clarke’s prominent novel “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell”, and would have loved to give this book five stars. But I found out that it’s very different from her first book.

It feels more like an extended novella, hiding its secrets like a short story from Gene Wolfe. Similar to his stories, Piranesi is an unreliable narrator having lost most of his memories, throwing the reader into this world like a newborn child.

The fascination held only halfway through the book and I after having worked on the solution, I waited for a larger uncovering, secrets within secrets to unfold. But they didn’t and that was a small disappointment, because the secret didn’t carry the novel long enough, it dragged on after a while. That setting was fresh and interesting for a few paragraphs but weared off like the mystery behind it all.

The unpopular opinion is: I enjoyed it, but don’t think that we have a masterpiece in our hands. 

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16 Responses to Piranesi • 2020 • Speculative fiction novel by Susanna Clarke

  1. bormgans says:

    Every review I’ve read points in the direction of your conclusion. I’m going to pass on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am sorry to hear that yer reading didn’t inspire ye with overwhelming love of the setting and character like it did me. I seriously wish I could visit the House. The First Mate’s take aligned more with yers. I understand yer viewpoint but I be glad I don’t share it 🙂
    x The Captain

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wakizashi says:

    Good to read your unbiased opinion. Your comment about Gene Wolfe has tempted me to pick this up eventually. I’ll wait until the price drops a little.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Alex Good says:

    I liked it, but can see where you’re coming from. Coming so long after Jonathan Strange I think expectations were really high, and it doesn’t live up to those. But judged on its own I thought it was interesting and different enough. Not a classic though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Interesting and different brings it to the point. The end result doesn’t express my expectation but the joy of reading it. And I wasn’t awed, so no 4 stars but 3.


  5. Ola G says:

    Yeah, I haven’t read this one and I don’t intend to – your review and others too suggest that it is neither complete nor conclusive, and the meandering style of Strange & Norrel grated on my nerves back when, so I can’t imagine I would have enjoyed it here in higher doses 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Oh, it is complete in the sense that the plot comes to a good end. It is also directly targeting it – I wouldn’t choose „meandering“ as appropriate: the novel doesn’t switch between povs, and doesn’t involve side tracks; that’s also more like a novella than a novel. Also, the literary style is different, no footnotes at all 😁
      Now, that nearly sounds like I want to persuade you – which I don’t. Just trying to clarify.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ola G says:

        I might have not been too precise as well; I’m totally fine with footnotes 😉 I read about the problems with the text being somehow incomplete in other reviews. And as for meandering, I mean mostly the issue of “style over substance,” and the plot being secondary to whimsy and elaborate worldbuilding.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Andreas says:

          That fits better! It all has to do with the puzzle as the central story element and everything – plot, character, setting- arranges around it. This construct might be valid and enjoyable in a short story but doesn’t hold up for a whole novel.

          Liked by 1 person

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