Book Review: PIRANESI by Susanna Clark

Title in white on black next to woodcut-esque drawing of a faun playing pipes on a column
Genre: Literary Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: standalone


Book cover for PIRANESI: title in white below a faun playing pipes on a column on a blue starry sky

Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has.

In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone.

Messages begin to appear, scratched out in chalk on the pavements. There is someone new in the House. But who are they and what do they want? Are they a friend or do they bring destruction and madness as the Other claims?

Lost texts must be found; secrets must be uncovered. The world that Piranesi thought he knew is becoming strange and dangerous.

The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite. 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


PIRANESI is the first book I picked for my Church’s book club, owing to its prize winning status (Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021), the fact I’d been interested in it for a while and so this was an excuse to read, and also its slenderness (it was a short turn around in November.) Personally, I am very glad I read it, so I hope it was a good pick! (There might be a slight uptick in general fiction over the coming months as I read book club book options!)

It is almost comical how thin this book is compared to the author’s debut – a mere 250 pages compared to a doorstopper 1000+ pages. Like JOHNATHON STRANGE AND MR NORREL, it’s a gorgeous book – but so very different in style, theme, and focus. It’s bizarre but in the best way.

(It’s also a really hard book to talk about without spoiling it! I loved the mystery at the heart of the book, how it weaves in elements and changes everything. But if I even start to try to explain those elements, what it means for the world etc, it would give it all away!)

It is hard to classify PIRANESI. Is this book fantasy? Or is it literary fiction with heavy speculative elements? It’s marketed as “speculative” (often used for these in between books to market them to more people.) I’m hedging bets and calling it “literary fantasy.”

It’s spiral of ideas and symbolism written as diary entries that slowly reveal the world. However, unlike some other literary fantasies, I found it much easier to read. It doesn’t feel like style over substance, where you’re slogging through overly pleased-with-themselves phrasing to try and work out what’s happening. Instead the style helps mould the mystery of the world.

There are capitalisations in the prose (like Fresh Water) that feels like a Victorian Natural Philosophy treatise, placing emphasis on words and making them something more than the ordinary. This helps make the House Piranesi lives in, and his own experiences, so hard to classify by our understanding. His methodical approach and speech feels old, his surroundings are classical taken to an unimaginable scale, but then there are all these anachronistic things like multi-vitamins.

As for the World, I love the inventiveness of it so much. Giant, museum like halls to infinity, filled with statues representing ideas. Tides rushing around, rising up from the bottom level. Clouds dancing through the upper level. It’s so clever, both familiar (I’ve been to the British Museum many times, for example) and yet so unfamiliar at once. A cold, sterile place in some ways, but also magical. Plus the white and teal and navy colour palate I imagined for the place is one of my favourites.

In all, this is a strangely beautiful book with an engaging mystery at its heart.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: PIRANESI by Susanna Clark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s