When I first heard of Piranesi, I only heard that it was a philosophical twist on the paintings of the real Piranesi. Ergo, I was sure the book would be fantastic, but I had no idea what I was getting into. Turns out, this was a wonderfully mind-boggling book that took the paintings of Piranesi and transformed them into a world within worlds. I won’t go into too much description, not only to save you from spoilers, but because the plot is very difficult to describe.
What I will talk about is Susanna Clarke’s imagery, which is always on point. If you’ve read her other works (such as Strange and Norrell), then you will know that Clarke is a master of imagery and description. In Piranesi, she describes long, vaulted halls filled with statuary – not only how it looks, but how it feels and sounds to the protagonist (also named Piranesi). Clarke also describes the halls in such a way that you could see yourself becoming mad, forgetting anything but these long and labyrinthine halls – a key point in the plot of this book. We don’t know whether these worlds of Piranesi are real. They could be in the mind of the protagonist, or in the mind of his enemy. What matters is that they feel real.
This is one of those books that I consider to be peak academia. The protagonist views the halls as a means of scientific discovery, recording his findings and hypotheses in journals, which is the format of the novel itself. There is, again, the madness that comes with such discoveries, and which we often find in rather exaggerated academic settings. However, Clarke writes this madness so well, so that we do not think that the protagonist is mad at all. In fact, we end up sympathizing with the protagonist, knowing that he is in the right (even if he has taken leave of many of his senses).
I absolutely loved this novel. It’s probably one of my favorite academia novels, and one of my favorite sci-fi. I love sci-fi novels that are subtle, that try to immerse you slowly, and Piranesi does such a good job of that. If you’re looking for something great in the academia genre, but also has elements of sci-fi and fantasy, this is the book for you.
Also apologies that this review is so late – I was in the middle of grading exams and that takes up a lot of brain space.
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