Piranesi lives to explore his unusual house—its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls lined with thousands of statues. Waves thunder up staircases, and rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel.
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.
The page-turning thrill of Piranesi is watching him puzzle out what we can already see, and guilelessly wander into danger ... Some books arrive dusted with the shimmer of literary myth. Piranesi is one of them ... There is something intoxicating about Clarke’s joyful castaway, a character so unencumbered by the weight of identity and ego. In another author’s hands his naivety might be stifling, but Piranesi seems more free in his crumbling prison than we are in our worldliness. When the winter wind lashes him with snow, he seeks out its beauty ... When the ferocious tides hurl him against the walls, he is grateful the statues are there to catch him. Even the presence of the dead is consolatory ... But the chief joy of Piranesi is that it is a space with limitless room in which the reader may roam, and no signposts – a grand metaphor, perhaps, for the act of fiction-writing.
... the sweetness, the innocence of Piranesi's love for this world is devastating to read. Clarke's writing is clear, sharp — she can cleave your heart in a few short words. In these brief but gut-wrenchingly tender interactions we are felled by the loneliness Piranesi can't fully grasp. The concept is gone from his mind of what he longs for the most ... This crossing of realms — the magical and scientific; the mystical and profane — in both Jonathan Strange and Piranesi is an alluring combination. As if Marie Curie meets Cleopatra on Mary Anning's beach. The mystery of Piranesi unwinds at a tantalizing yet lightening-like pace — it's hard not to rush ahead, even when each sentence, each revelation makes you want to linger ... Humans seek connection and knowledge — but how do we define those quests? How do we approach those paths? Both worlds in this enthralling, transcendent novel come with magic and reason, beauty and warmth, danger and destruction. However ill-gotten, Piranesi has achieved an equilibrium, a delicate peace with the contradictions of pain and love. How do we do the same? How do we bear the pain of our limits, and what must we give up to survive?