The only way in which Piranesi falls short of its predecessor is length; it spans a pleasingly concise 245 pages. As a work of fiction, it’s spectacular; an irresistibly unspooling mystery set in a world of original strangeness, revealing a set of ideas that will stay lodged in your head long after you’ve finished reading ... Where are these southwestern halls? Why did an albatross come to them? And why has the recorder of these events lost access to the standard measure of time? I cannot tell you any of these things, because one of the intense pleasures of Piranesi is making your own guesses, and being proved wrong ... Clarke has the same skill Flann O’Brien poured into The Third Policeman for making insane worlds feel as solid as our own. After all that time, she has produced a second novel that is close to perfect.
...if her first novel established [Clarke] as one of the world’s best fantasy writers, Piranesi is set to place her in the pantheon of the greats, no modifier necessary ... Both timeless and strikingly timely ... Piranesi is completely unencumbered by questions of identity. His mind is a mystery — both to himself and to the reader — and one of the many joys the book offers is the satisfaction of slowly piecing together an explanation for his apparent amnesia. Another is the experience of seeing the world, however briefly, through the eyes of someone curiously devoid of ego. And then there is the simple thrill of turning the pages to find out what will happen next. Although on one level the book is a philosophical puzzle, like something out of Kafka or Borges, it offers the excitement of an adventure story and the dark allure of a detective yarn ... Now, as we face a winter of confinement, the subtle transformation in Clarke’s work lingers in my mind—a feeling of finally learning how to pick a lock.
We believers have waited a long time for a second novel from Clarke, and so it’s especially exciting to see that none of her enchantment has worn off—it’s evolved. Reading her lithe new book, Piranesi, feels like finding a copy of Steven Millhauser’s Martin Dressler in the back of C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe ... The hypnotic quality of Piranesi stems largely from how majestically Clarke conjures up this surreal House ... an unusually fragile mystery—as delicate as the slender fingers and wispy petals on the marble statues that fill the House. Clarke’s power certainly extends beyond mere suspense, but her story relies on the steady accretion of apprehension that finally gives way to a base-shifting revelation. Until you read the book yourself, keep your wand drawn to ward off the summaries of enthusiastic fans and clumsy reviewers. I promise to tread carefully here ... Perhaps Clarke’s cleverest move in this infinitely clever novel is the way she critiques our obliterating efforts to extract deeper meaning and greater value from everything in our world ... This is the abiding magic of Clarke’s novel: We’re as likely to pity Piranesi for his cheerful acceptance of imprisonment as we are to envy him for his ready appreciation of the world as he finds it. Clarke conceived of this story long before the coronavirus pandemic, but tragedy has made Piranesi resonate with a planet in quarantine. To abide in these pages is to find oneself happily detained in awe.
... a little imp of a book that packs a punch several times its (relatively) meager page count. I’d worried that, all these years later, Clarke might have grown timid, seeking a breather from all the grand historical world-building. Instead, she creates a dazzling world of infinite fascination inside the musings of one very simple man ... The world of Piranesi is built entirely from scratch, at first as devoid of life as an Escher sketch but gradually filled in until it’s as rich as a second universe ... Piranesi is a portrait of us as young readers, swept into a story and happy to stay there. 'Keep it up!' the novel seems to murmur in our ears, 'read, read, read!' ... In Clarke’s world, we are more than an observer. If we’re reading Piranesi’s words, then we must be subject to the magic as well.
...beautiful ... Initially, the book’s momentum is created and maintained by the reader and narrator learning more, at different rates. A little before the halfway point, these processes of discovery intertwine with a conflict that prompts the characters’ actions for the rest of the book ... Piranesi has a deliberately tight focus ... Anyone who reads this book in search of only 'something just like JS&MN' will almost certainly be disappointed: unless the 'something' they are looking for is a lingering sense of warmth, wonder, and fulfillment.
Haunting, tantalising, enigmatic, profound — it is all these and more. From the opening sentence the reader is plunged into the novel’s strange gravitational pull ... For the first 80 pages, I was enchanted by the exquisitely weird world Clarke conjures but also, I confess, utterly mystified as to what was going on ... Having lured us into the maze, Clarke gradually ramps up clues that all is not as it seems, and we slowly begin to suspect that Piranesi’s record of the world he inhabits might be less reliable than he believes ... this magnificent novel leaves us wondering if we are perhaps still living in Plato’s cave, mistaking shadows for the real thing.
... spellbinding ... Fans have eagerly waited 16 years for Clarke’s follow-up. News of a new book finally broke last September and the hype rocketed to literary heights...Could Piranesi match it? I’m delighted to say it has, with Clarke’s singular wit and imagination still intact in a far more compressed yet still captivating tale you’ll want to delve into again right after you read its sublime last sentence ... Much of the pleasure of reading Piranesi derives from Piranesi himself, the charming if rather naive waif who narrates the novel via journal entries under an invented event-based calendar ... The story takes all manner of bizarre twists and thrilling turns from there — neo-pagan academics, a Flood, and gunfire all make an appearance — but I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun. Admirers of Jonathan Strange will surely enjoy Clarke’s continued penchant for vivid world building where something supernatural could appear around any corner. However, it’s the non-magical moments that linger the longest in Piranesi.
... a dreamlike follow-up to her busy, involved debut. From within the universe she constructed decades ago in her first writings, Clarke has taken the toughest problem of her own creation—what to do with all the otherworldly architecture she’s made possible—and turned it into an opportunity to explore the effects of trauma and dissociation on memory and identity ... the silence of illness and seclusion becomes the blank areas of memory that our conscious mind can repress. This investigation into consciousness through water and stone is pure Freud ... If Strange & Norrell was a long inquiry into the substance of Englishness, from deep national myth to petty table manners, Piranesi shows the inquirer turning away from social themes and toward more slippery, psychological questions, in order to produce a novel a fraction of the length but with quadruple the seriousness of its predecessor. Piranesi is a story about transformation and the work of a thinker, transformed: Susanna Clarke has fashioned her own myth anew and enlarged the world again.
The book starts off rather slowly, as we only know what Piranesi knows, which, at the beginning, is practically nothing. But as Piranesi’s understanding increases, the plot unspools like a ball of yarn, gathering pace before culminating in a surprisingly suspenseful finale ... It may be slim but, like an onion, it has many layers to peel back and explore. Clarke’s second novel is definitely worth the wait.
In her new novel, Piranesi, Clarke is still working with fantasy literature, but here she crosses it with postmodern magical realism—Borges, Calvino and Marquez go through the Narnian wardrobe this time, rather than Austen, Trollope and Dickens. The result is substantially shorter, and perhaps less accessible. In terms of invention and beauty, though, it’s a fitting heir to Clarke’s first book ... Piranesi is in the House, as you are in the book, and he wanders through it to learn his own identity just as you do. Clarke deftly weaves together highbrow and lowbrow so Piranesi as reader is both symbol and story. To read Piranesi is to be the labyrinth and the traveler in the labyrinth, which is poetry and prose ... Piranesi is a gentle man, and a gentle book. It wants to leave doors open for its characters and its readers ... Piranesi is a novel to revisit—a house you can open again, with statues touched by quiet thoughts and strange tides.
Like Hilary Mantel, Clarke made the very notion of genre seem quaint ... This is, for a start, a much shorter novel than its predecessor, whose doorstopper proportions were a byproduct of its garrulous and vastly digressive style. All that has been cast aside here, in favour of a prose that is economical almost to the point of austerity ... It would be a disservice even to hint at the revelations that follow, revelations that not only upend Piranesi’s world but confront the reader with some truly onerous moral uncertainties. What can be said, though, is that at least the contours of the truth are encoded in this novel’s architecture ... Clarke fuses these themes, seducing us with imaginative grandeur only to sweep that vision away, revealing the monstrosities to which we can not only succumb but wholly surrender ourselves. The result is a remarkable feat, not just of craft but of reinvention.
... abides by limits, and within those limits—thanks to those limits, in fact—it is a wonder ... The House is the world on which Clarke exerts her formidable world-building skills ... What’s unsettling about the book, and what I loved most about it, is that this dramatic irony is not played for comedy or for pity. Instead, it illuminates the unbridgeable gap between us, the readers, and Piranesi, and puts forth an argument that the differences between us may be just as damaging to us as they are to him. He may not be able to see how life in the House has warped him, the way we can—but our understanding of the majesty of the House is nothing like his. His enchantment at the wonders of the House, at the world he lives in, is alluring ... Of course the Other’s stories begin to fall apart, and of course Piranesi begins to understand the nature of the House and of his existence. That he trails us a bit in that understanding means that the book didn’t quite astonish me, the way Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so often did. Instead, Piranesi is after a quieter kind of magic, exploring the ways human beings can adapt and find meaning in even the direst of conditions. Ought we all be devoting more of our energies to appreciating the beauty of our own lives and less to determining the circumstances of our imprisonments?
Clarke’s new novel is called Piranesi, and it is haunting. It establishes Clarke not just as one of the great fantasy novelists of her generation, but as one of the greatest novelists of any genre currently writing in English ... so haunting, so exquisite ... Piranesi did what all truly great novels do, which is to take me out of myself and then return me back as someone new and changed ... Piranesi is a book bigger than its mysteries and bigger than its slim page length. You will want to let it swallow you whole.
... bewitching ... winks at the great quest epics organized around the hunt for some lost ancient power. It is also what you might think of as an academic thriller in the vein of Umberto Eco or Dan Brown ... because Ms. Clarke’s novel assumes Piranesi’s point of view—the narrative is related by way of his journal entries—these standard plot elements appear blurry and distorted, as though refracted through water. The happy reversal in this novel is that the genre conventions pitting power-mad villains against crusading good guys are entirely foreign to Piranesi, and for much of the novel beyond his comprehension ... a high-quality page-turner—even the most leisurely reader will probably finish it off in a day—but its chief pleasure is immersion in its strange and uncannily attractive setting ... Ms. Clarke is a cool and meticulous stylist—Piranesi’s journal entries about the House are loaded with measurements and calculations and painstaking architectural descriptions—but the territory she evokes transcends rationality ... Establishing that sense of totality—and the feeling of peacefulness that accompanies it—is Ms. Clarke’s standout feat ... The rub, however, is that Piranesi is mistaken, as there are gaps both in his memory and in his conception of the House. As the anthropologists’ skulduggery intrudes on the well-being of the House, the book merges with another literary genre: the puzzle novel, whereby Piranesi pieces together clues—some buried in his early journals, some from pages that have been torn up and woven by seagulls into their nests—to uncover the Other’s true identity, as well as his own. This is neatly done, and it will keep you reading, but it does shift the focus of the book away from its capacious worldbuilding to the practical mechanics of its plot. The trouble with the puzzle novel is that the story becomes so concerned with its solution that it ceases to pay attention to the image it reveals ... It is probably inescapable that Piranesi should undergo a disenchantment of a kind, and that the captivating mystery of its setting pass into a generic mystery in which the point is to figure out what has happened and learn how things will end. But as the ending unfolded, I admit that I was wistful for those earlier passages when Piranesi was still innocent of the complicated novel being constructed around him, serene in the belief that nothing other than his House was real.
Piranesi centers on a strange, haunting world and features a main character whose earnest goodwill is piercingly endearing ... Piranesi hits many of the same pleasure points as Jonathan Strange—Clarke’s dazzling feats of world building, for one ... Lavishly descriptive, charming, heartbreaking and imbued with a magic that will be familiar to Clarke’s devoted readers, Piranesi will satisfy lovers of Jonathan Strange and win her many new fans.
In her highly distilled and rarefied first novel since her Hugo Award–winning debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellClarke posits another dynamic between a seeming mentor and mentee. But the realm in which their increasingly suspect relationship unspools is a bizarre and baffling one ... As questions multiply and suspense mounts in this spellbinding, occult puzzle of a fable, one begins to wonder if perhaps the reverence, kindness, and gratitude practiced by Clarke’s enchanting and resilient hero aren’t all the wisdom one truly needs.
With her second novel, Clarke invokes tropes that have fueled a century of surrealist and fantasy fiction as well as movies, television series, and even video games. At the foundation of this story is an idea at least as old as Chaucer: Our world was once filled with magic, but the magic has drained away. Clarke imagines where all that magic goes when it leaves our world and what it would be like to be trapped in that place. Piranesi is a naif, and there’s much that readers understand before he does. But readers who accompany him as he learns to understand himself will see magic returning to our world ... Weird and haunting and excellent.
Clarke wraps a twisty mystery inside a metaphysical fantasy in her extraordinary new novel, her first since 2004’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. ... With great subtlety, Clarke gradually elaborates an explanatory backstory to her tale’s events and reveals sinister occult machinations that build to a crescendo of genuine horror. This superbly told tale is sure to be recognized as one of the year’s most inventive novels