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Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

This is a wonder of a book.  I had been having trouble actually finishing a book for some time  – whether because of ill health or all the various plague lockdowns I do not know – but I’d start something with great enthusiasm . . . and never make it past the first couple of chapters.  And then a friend gave me Piranesi

I could not put it down.  I devoured it.   It was wonderful.   Literally full of wonders. Wonderful wonders.  Magic.  Right out of this terrestrial world with all its various present day awfulnesses. 

You are plunged right into this new world – and, true, the first two or three pages can come over as kind of strange and confusing – but if you make it past that you are caught, imprisoned in the House which is the World, with Piranesi.

Piranesi lives in this fantastical House/World where water and tides and floods and giant pillars and Herculean sculptures abound.  And the skeletons of the entire population of the world.  He believes there have only ever been sixteen people in the World, of which he – and one other person, known to him as the Other – are the only survivors.  He survives by eating seaweed and things from the sea and explores the vastnesses of all the ‘rooms’ and ‘halls’ and staircases – there are three floors to this wonderful place – and now and again wonders why he’s called Piranesi. 

He meets with the Other two times a week where they discuss the Other’s important work – a Great and Secret Knowledge – which he believes must be somewhere in this World.  The Other is a scientist as is Piranesi – which is why the Other consults with him. And apart from the Other, Piranesi lives totally alone.  There are the odd visitations from various animals and birds – but not any more humans.

Until one day he finds something . . .

And that’s all you’re getting from me.

It’s a tale of fantasy – and could well be what is sometimes known as a ‘Marmite’ book. The friend who gave me the book bought one for herself at the same time – and to my knowledge she has still not got past those first two or three pages.   What a magic brain workout she’s missing!

Reviewed by a library member.