Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Piranesi - now that’s incredible world building!

 A while ago, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke was recommended to me. And I kept putting off reading it for months. Then, I finally picked it up and tore through it in a couple sittings.

(And, no, I haven’t read Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrel, her first book. It’s more enticing now but Piranesi is a much shorter book so it was easier for me to fit in) 

Piranesi is an ontological mystery. And in case I sound smart, I only found that term when I was doing some light research about the book. I was already familiar with the idea and you are too. It’s when the characters wake up in a strange place and the mystery is what’s going on.

Anyway, this one is a doozy. The narrator, who tells his story via journal entries, is in a building that apparently goes on forever. The vast halls are filled with classically-styled sculptures and the place has tides, rain and clouds. The narrator assumes that he has always been there but there are plenty of hints from the get-go that there is much more going on. 

The title refers to the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi. One his most famous works is Imaginary Prisons, a series  of etchings depicting vast, impossible subterranean vaults. If you think you’ve never seen them, you’re probably wrong. They are one of the touchstones of fantastic architecture.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It’s not that there are really crazy twists and turns. It’s just that the narrator’s journey is so well done that I think it’s better to go on the ride without knowing what’s going to happen.

There have been many works where the setting is as much a character as any of the more conventionally defined characters. And not necessarily as Genius Loci. The House definitely qualifies. The narrator is intriguing and the plot is fun but the setting is the champion of Piranesi. The House is endlessly fascinating.

If I wanted to spoil the book, I’d have so much more to say.

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