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.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon is absolutely a five-star read. The premise is that the African slaves who were dumped off the side of slave ships gave birth to water-breathing children who then became mermaid-like creatures called the wajinru. In this group of people there is what is called the Historian, who holds all of the memories and, of course, history of the wajinru as a whole. Only the Historian remembers. The Deep is about one such Historian, Yetu, who breaks from tradition to find herself, and ultimately reconnect with the history of her people.
This book is about memory and who holds memories, whose job it is to remember. It is also about how remembering keeps a people and a culture alive, something I have personal experience with. I am not only a classicist, someone who keeps alive literature from the ancient world, but I am also Jewish. The latter causes me to relate to this book the most, as the wajinru, and ultimately those of African descent, try to keep memories and histories alive, so have the Jewish people after their own demise – and like Yetu, this is what I feel has been handed down to me in certain ways. Rivers Solomon does a fantastic job depicting what they call “Rememberings”, not only represented by the Historian, but also by the ocean that keeps the wajinru safe and their memories secure. The depth of the ocean parallels just how deeply their memories go, and us readers see how much of it gets lost when Yetu abandons the deep for a fresh start.
I recommend this book to those who keep memories alive, especially in times of turmoil like these. Black Lives Matter, and so do their experiences and memories.
Did you ever imagine the ways in which time could be different? Did you ever imagine stepping through time to the past, future, or other version of time out of your wildest dreams? This book brings to life so many concepts of time, as I read them I felt like I was truly inside of Einstein’s dreams. While this book is a work entirely of fiction, one could imagine that these are what Einstein would have dreamt about as he came up with his theory of time. He imagines time standing still, time moving too quickly, time in the form of pictures, time slowing down the higher or the faster you go, time circular and time linear, the consequences of immortality on time, and several others that stir the imagination.
That is what I loved about this book: it stirs the imagination and makes the reader think of all the possibilities the universe could have. Now I must admit that this is the type of book that would mess me up: any philosophy on the nature of time, space, and/or existence makes me think of possibilities, and sometimes what is possible can, shall I say, break my mind.
One other thing I loved about this book is the imagery. Lightman describes Berne and the surrounding areas so well you can imagine being there and seeing the city as Einstein did. You can hear the sounds of the bustling city, see the glow of the sun on the peaks of the Alps, feel it a living, breathing place in time.
The only real criticism I have of this book is that I wish there were more chapters that talked about Einstein himself and his life. There were chapters like this which served as interludes between the dream chapters, but I would have liked to have had more, and perhaps with more speculative analysis of the dreams from Einstein’s character.
I would recommend this book to those who love philosophical science fiction, to lovers of Jules Verne novels, and those who want to experience a different time. I would definitely reread this book again.