Piranesi's house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week 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, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.
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.