by Susanna Clarke

Hardcover, 2020



Call number



Bloomsbury Publishing (2020), Edition: 01, 272 pages


Piranesi's house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known. For readers of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller's Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.… (more)

Media reviews

Here it is worth reflecting on the subject of Clarke's overt homage. The historical Piranesi, an 18th-century engraver, is celebrated for his intricate and oppressive visions of imaginary prisons and his veduta ideate, precise renderings of classical edifices set amid fantastic vistas. Goethe, it
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is said, was so taken with these that he found the real Rome greatly disappointing. Clarke fuses these themes, seducing us with imaginative grandeur only to sweep that vision away, revealing the monstrosities to which we can not only succumb but wholly surrender ourselves.

The result is a remarkable feat, not just of craft but of reinvention. Far from seeming burdened by her legacy, the Clarke we encounter here might be an unusually gifted newcomer unacquainted with her namesake's work. If there is a strand of continuity in this elegant and singular novel, it is in its central pre-occupation with the nature of fantasy itself. It remains a potent force, but one that can leave us - like Goethe among the ruins - forever disappointed by what is real.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Gwendydd
This is a very strange book, and I mean that in the best way possible. It is very different from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but has the same kind of unsettling baroque weirdness to it.

It is the journal of a man who lives alone in a giant... building? Full of... halls? That are full of
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statues of everything imaginable. And also oceans with tides? Despite the fact that he lives alone in this place, he still knows that the statues represent beekeepers and minotaurs and fathers. There is one other person who visits this place twice a week, and Piranesi looks forward to his meetings with that person, even though he is kind of a jerk.

It becomes clear pretty quickly that Piranesi is an unreliable narrator. Piranesi finds clues about his own unreliability, and like the reader, tries to piece together what has happened.

We do ultimately more or less get solutions to most of the mysteries, although some questions are left unanswered.

The book is very strange, but also very compelling. Piranesi is a delightful narrator, full of child-like innocence and wonder. He wants to catalog all the statues in the House, and in the process he is keenly observant of everything around him. To him, the House is a benevolent deity, full of wonders, always providing what is needed. He has clearly gone through some horrible tragedy, and yet he finds beauty in the world.

There is a lot of room for allegorical and philosophical interpretations of this book. You can read it as a metaphor for quarantine or mental illness or academia. You can compare it to memory palaces or Plato's cave or various other epistemic systems. You can spend a lot of time trying to figure out the symbolism of the tides or each statue or the birds. I don't think Clarke specifically wrote the book to fit any of these interpretations, because none of them work neatly, but I think the book is open to all of them, and the fact that it inspires thoughts about all of these topics and more is a testament to how much depth Clarke managed to cram into a very short book with a very simple writing style.
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LibraryThing member SandDune
Piranesi lives in the House. The House is the World and the World is the House, and as a scientist he is determined to explore and record as much of the World as he can:

‘To this end I have travelled as far as the Nine-Hundred-and-Sixtieth Hall to the West, the Eight-Hundred-and-Ninetieth Hall to
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the North and the Seven-Hundred-and Sixty-Eighth Hall to the South. I have climbed up to the Upper Halls where Clouds move in slow Procession and Statues appear suddenly out to the Mists. I have explored the Drowned Halls where the Dark Waters are carpeted with white water lilies. I have seen the Derelict Halls of the East where Ceilings, Floors — sometimes even Walls! — have collapsed and the dimness is split by shafts of grey Light.

In all these places I have stood in Doorways and looked ahead. I have never seen any indication that the World was coming to an End, but only the regular progression of Halls and Passageways into the Far Distance.’

Piranesi knows that at least fifteen people have existed in the world. There is himself and the Other (who are both alive), and then there are the thirteen dead, whose skeletal remains Piranesi tends with offerings of water lilies and water and food. As he goes about the House, he records all that he discovers in his meticulously kept journals, of which there are now ten. Piranesi never forgets anything about the House, but it is clear that there are some things which he has forgotten. Why, for instance, did he decide to label his first two journals ‘December 2011 to June 2012’ and ‘June 2012 to November 2012’? Such an aesthetically unpleasing system! His current naming convention is much more sensible: his last completed journal is labelled ‘Sixteenth Day of the Tenth Month in the Year I travelled to the Nine-Hundred-and-Sixtieth Western Hall, to the Fourth Day of the Fifth Month in the Year the Albatross came to the South-Western Hall.’ And why does the Other call him Piranesi at all, when he is almost certain that that is not his name?

As the Other begins to warn Piranesi about another person who may exist in the Halls, a ‘sixteenth person’, he is forced to question more and more about his World. And the reader, looking in from a very different perspective, also questions more and more about the World, but the questions asked (and the answers arrived at) are rarely the same.

This is a truly wonderful book.
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LibraryThing member invisiblelizard
I have ZERO complaints about Susanna Clarke's second novel, Piranesi. It's practically a perfect novel. I absolutely loved it.

Going in, I will admit, I was disheartened by the length. Considering the magnum opus that was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and the length of time that elapsed between
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the publication of the two (16 years), I had been anticipating another great long tome to sink my teeth into. Wouldn't that have been an awesome salve to the horror that is 2020? But, no, we got slim 245 page wisp of a book, hardly a novel at all, more like a novella. So yeah, going in I was expecting something less than what I got.

Which was, in reality, something wholly grand. Clarke is a magician herself. She packed inside this little book a story larger than I thought possible in so few pages. The titular Piranesi is trapped (which is not the exact right word) in a magnificent house, which is actually his entire world, filled with large halls and huge rooms and gigantic staircases that descend down into floors that are filled with the rising tides of watery seas, or ascend up into levels that are filled with clouds and rain, with windows that only stare out to the stars and the moon, with sculptures that depict just about any scene imaginable populated with creatures beyond imagine. My god, the special effects budget on this when they finally turn it into a movie is going to be outrageous (but worth it).

So we have Piranesi in this place, and he's a love letter to a gentle peaceful soul, content, happy, blissful and blissfully ignorant of his real situation, which we (the reader) only get glimpses of at first. During his interactions with The Other (the only other person in this place, this "House" as he calls it with a capital "H") we start to piece together, slowly, the circumstances of Piranesi's confinement. This is a masterful play on the almost over-used unreliable narrator motif so popular in books these days, in which Piranesi is only unreliable because he is guileless and pure. He's not trying to deceive us. He's just been deceived himself and is too innocent to understand it.

And that's all I'll say about the plot, because it's a treasure each reader should unfold for themselves. I will say that in 245 pages, you do get to meet more than just these two people, and you do learn what happened (and what happens) to Piranesi, and you do see the would outside of this House, but in the end, his love for the House, no matter the circumstances, overwhelms you and you wish and hope for him to never have to leave. And you almost are jealous that he has something so wonderful to love in his life which brings him such peace.

P.S. For additional context, do a little googling on Clarke herself. The reason why there is a 16 year gap between novels isn't because she was taking some time off or resting on her laurels. She became afflicted with a mysterious illness that had her nearly incapacitated for many years, literally trapped inside her own house. It's a sad story and my heart goes out to her and I cringe when I think of how I (figuratively) shook my fist at having to wait so long for the JS&MN successor. Piranesi is every bit as genius as JS&MN just in a smaller package. It clearly shows that Clarke is a magnificent writer at the top of her game, even having gone through years of illness.
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LibraryThing member isabelx
The House was peculiarly silent. No birds flew; no birds sang. Where had they all gone? It seemed they found the Cloud-haunted World as oppressive as I did. In the Sixth Western Hall I found them at last. They were gathered there, perched on the Shoulders and Heads of every Statue, on Plinths and
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on Columns, sitting silently, waiting.

This is a wonderful story, set in an endless labyrinth of halls and vestibules, with walls covered in statues. The House has three floors on three levels, the highest in ruins, the lowest washed by the sea, and only the middle floor mostly habitable. I’m glad I didn’t read any reviews before starting to read this book, as it is better to discover the true nature of the House gradually.

Piranesi spends his time exploring the House, fishing and writing his journals, and meeting up with the Other twice a week to help him with his search for the lost knowledge which he thinks can be found somewhere in the House. The Other is bad-tempered and driven and I may have ulterior motives.

Another – perhaps the Statue that I love above all others – stands at a Door between the Fifth and Fourth North-Western Halls. It is the Statue of a Faun, a creature half-man and half-goat, with a head of exuberant curls. He smiles slightly and presses his forefinger to his lips. I have always felt that he meant to tell me something or perhaps to warn me of something: Quiet! he seems to say. Be careful! But what danger there could possibly be I have never known. I dreamt of him once; he was standing in a snowy forest and speaking to a female child.
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LibraryThing member KatyBee
I loved this beautiful, unique story. Reading this is very much like inhabiting a myth within a dream. There is an infinite, mysterious labyrinth with thousands of classical statues, surging tides, flocks of birds, and bones of the dead. There are characters both innocent and nefarious. There is a
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mystery that slowly unfolds over chapters to reveal the nature of the setting. Well, sort of. And the atmosphere remains after the last page like recalling a lost fantasy lived long ago.
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LibraryThing member leisjenn
It’s something special when a book captivates you and has a hold over your emotions as Piranesi did for me. Every page had my full attention and I tore through it with a need to figure out where the plot was going. The fact that the book is told from one point of view, as if you are reading the
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narrators journal, made it all the more real. I felt every emotion going through his head and at time even felt my own heart race with anxiety. If someone were to ask me what it was about I don’t know if I could do it justice with a description. I would just say to take my world and read it right now.
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LibraryThing member jillrhudy
Fans of Susanna Clarke have been waiting 16 years for a new novel, whereas George R. R. Martin fans have been tapping their toes for only nine. "Piranesi" is worth the wait: like "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" it is a true original, reminiscent of "The Magus" by John Fowles, with nods to "Pan's
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Labyrinth" and C. S. Lewis's Narnia series.

In the first entry in this epistolary novel, we meet proud and humble Piranesi, contentedly exploring a vast, otherworldly labyrinth full of statues which is partly submerged in ocean waves. While observing the tides that sweep through the halls, Piranesi keeps a meticulous diary of "scientific findings," events, and rituals.

Small disturbances and inconsistencies begin to creep into the novel as Piranesi reveals that Piranesi is not his name (he can't remember his name) and that he worships the labyrinth, which he calls The House, as a god. A Mephistophelian companion appears on a strikingly regular schedule who has no name: Piranesi simply calls him the Other, and the Other is the only living human being that Piranesi recalls ever having known. The Other has given Piranesi his name, which implies that the labyrinth is a prison (Piranesi was an Italian artist who made etchings of labyrinthine prisons). The Other is seeks "a Great and Secret Knowledge" that will give him enormous power.

Piranesi describes his suffering and deprivation in what seems at first to be a kind of paradise. The Other, Piranesi's beloved captor and magus, is evil, but the Other has a mysterious magus of his own. When facts about Piranesi and "the Other" come to light, Piranesi discovers that his "rational mind" of which he is so proud has been keeping all of the evidence about his life and identity hidden in plain sight.

Clarke makes brilliant use of narrative distance and an unreliable narrator to create slowly dawning horror and to layer mystery upon mystery, followed by a cascade of revelations like a labyrinth-sweeping tide. While masquerading as an escapist fantasy, "Piranesi" explores the extreme lengths to which the human mind will go to make sense and order out of chaos and terror. I was intoxicated, disturbed, and satisfied by this psychedelic trip of a novel.

I received an advanced readers copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher and was encouraged to submit a review.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2001
I do like books where the world itself is a mystery, and Piranesi is a great one. I also like books where both characters and reader have to piece together events from documents, and Piranesi does a lot of that, too. This was right up my alley, and I hugely enjoyed it, from Clarke's strange
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otherworld to her guileless narrator trying to see his way out of a trap to the glimpses of a strange, off-putting film project. I did want a little more out of it—the origin of the otherworld doesn't really matter in the end—but on the whole, this was a great little tale, well told.

(I did spend a lot of the book wondering if Clarke was a Doctor Who fan because I feel like the novel's villain was "played" by Roger Delgado... and then it turned out a character had published an academic paper on Steven Moffat!)
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Something very claustrophobic about this novel - I can't quite put my finger on it...let you know [in progress]
LibraryThing member sleahey
From the beginning of this surreal novel the reader feels as off-kilter as the first person narrator. Presented as journal entries, the narrative takes us inside the mind of Piranesi, an inhabitant of a house with infinite rooms, countless mythic statues, and tidal waters. He knows the only other
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person in this world as The Other, with whom he attempts to discover true knowledge in behalf of the house. With his proud familiarity with the house and its statues, and an endless supply of fish to eat, Piranesi is content until he detects the possibility of another human in his world. Thanks to his journals and his meticulous indexing of his own writing, Piranesi gradually uncovers some truths about himself and his history.
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LibraryThing member modioperandi
Susanna Clarke's Piranesi opens up to a world that is a house and the house is a world to it's inhabitants; especially to the young man we come to know as Piranesi but that is not his name. Susanna Clarke seems to harp on themes of loss and forgetting and memory and place-finding and naming. What
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does it mean to inhabit a place and what do our histories mean? Piranesi inhabits an infinite house that has past inhabitatnts and its own natural cycles. Piranesi lives with a partner, Other, who like Piranesi is a scientist but it becomes clear that Other knows more than he leads on.

The opening pages of Piranesi unravel in unsettling ways. We are introduced to a world-house / house-world where things are clearly not what they seem to be. Achingly beautiful and intriguingly spooky Pireanesi looks to be the September read we will need coming out of or heading into another quarantine. Get ready to hail or bewail the year of the Albatross! I am calling it now ahead of the moment; All hail the year of the Albatross.

Thanks to NetGalley for my ARC.
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LibraryThing member bell7
*E-ARC received from NetGalley with the understanding that I would post an honest review. No money or other goods were exchanged, and all views are my own.*

A young man in a House full of Statues journals his experiences. On the surface, this seems like a lovely life where he has all the fish and
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supplies he needs while interacting with only one other human, called the Other, who meets him a couple of times a week. But cracks come into this perfect world, and readers will soon realize there's more than meets the eye to this man, whom the Other calls Piranesi, and exactly why he's at the House.

This book is about as different as can be from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and still be in the fantasy genre. It's short, tightly plotted, almost a thriller and told entirely in journal entries. The reader knows more than the protagonist all along, but he's such an innocent that you can hardly get annoyed or fault him. I was driven to know the whole story, and read quickly. There were a few nods to The Chronicles of Narnia that I enjoyed discovering, too.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Piranesi (though he doesn’t think that’s his name, it’s what the Other calls him) lives in a great House full of infinite rooms themselves full of statues, and sometimes the sea. Through his journal, we start to see that the mystery here is not what Piranesi thinks it is. It’s an eerie,
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mournful story with striking descriptions of the statues that make up Piranesi’s mostly lonely world.
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LibraryThing member N.W.Moors
I'm going to be in a minority but this was definitely not a book for me. I wavered between 2 and 3 stars but finally settled on 3 because I finished it.
The first 100 pages are a slough to get through. Piranesi is in a labyrinth with lots of statues, birds, and tides. He cooks seaweed and collects
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fresh water, then writes in his journal and makes lists. Periodically, he meets with "the Other" to discuss what he's found. This goes on and on and on.
Okay, other reviewers noted that the book picks up at this point so I read on but nothing much dramatic happens except there's a new person, "16", who Piranesi must stay away from according to the Other.
I was tempted to DNF, but this book has been so recommended and highly rated that instead, I looked for some interviews with the author to see if she could explain the appeal. It turns out this is based roughly on CS Lewis's The Magician's Nephew (the one Narnia book I didn't read) and the philosophies of one of the Inklings, Owen Barfield. Barfield believed (and now I quote from Piranesi where his ideas were incorporated):
"the Ancients had a different way of relating to the world, that they experienced it as something that interacted with them. When they observed the world, the world observed them back. If, for example, they travelled in a boat on a river, then the river was in some way aware of carrying them on its back and had in fact agreed to it. When they looked up to the stars, the constellations were not simply patterns enabling them to organise what they saw, they were vehicles of meaning, a never-ending flow of information. The world was constantly speaking to Ancient Man."
This idea is what enables Piranesi to be Piranesi and live in this other world. Unfortunately, while I love the philosophy, I didn't find the execution in this story to hold up.
I'm glad other people enjoyed it but this book was not for me.
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LibraryThing member bragan
Piranesi -- although that is not actually his name -- lives in a seemingly infinite House of vast rooms full of statues, partially flooded by the sea. He is alone, except for fish, birds, thirteen dead people, and a man he thinks of as the Other, who visits twice a week and says a lot of cryptic
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It's a wonderful, magical, fascinating, deeply strange setting, with a wonderful, mysterious, fascinating, deeply strange narrator. And it really is Clarke's choice of narrator that makes this short novel so good. It's very, very easy to imagine a much more conventional-feeling version of this basic story written from some other POV, with "Piranesi" in the role of a simple plot device, but while that might have been vaguely interesting, it would never have been anywhere near this memorable. And not just because I got quite attached to the guy, either, although that certainly does help.
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LibraryThing member dhmontgomery
“Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” is one of my favorite books of all time, a sprawling, genre-crossing epic with wry wit. Susanna Clarke’s long-awaited second novel has that same wit, but is otherwise a very different creature — slim, fast-paced, a jewel box of madness and beauty, dominated
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by the surreal halls of its setting. Like her characters, I want to know more, to spend more time in its world — but like the wiser among them, I also know it is perhaps for the best that my visit was brief; the brief 245 pages of “Piranesi” are meticulously crafted and tell its story perfectly.
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LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
Beautiful, haunting, amazing novel. Lives up to all the hype, deserves to win many prizes and be read by everyone. Top shelf.
LibraryThing member Beamis12
3.5 I started this several months back, put it aside thinking I was not the right reader for this book. I did not read Clarke's first, but knew it proved very popular and Piranesi we much shorter, manageable.
After reading several glowing reviews from readers I trust, I picked it back up and started
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over. Had no clue where this story was going, what it was supposed to represent but I liked the character of Piranesi and was intrigued by the place he inhabited. Plus, as I said it was relatively short.

Strange, quirky book, couldn't begin to guess what genre this would fit into, there seem to be several possibilities beneath its cover. While I didn't love it, it will also be one I'm sure to remember. It's just that different, unique at least to me since it's not something I usually read. I'm glad I read it though, as it is a book one experiences as well as reading.

"Perhaps that is what it is like being with other people. Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the world in ways you would rather not."
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
When I fail to be as enthralled by a book, as other reviewers, I often wonder why. I think in this case it is because I am not really an erudite reader. In reading the reviews I came across the description of “academic thriller” and that it is. It is a very original tale and I think I just was
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not astute enough to capture all the layers in this story of Piranesi, the master and the 13 skeletons who Piranesi sees as humans. I am not particularly fond of surrealist work, and that may be at the bottom of my discomfort with this book.
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LibraryThing member MickyFine
It's hard to describe this one as part of the delight of reading the novel (for me, anyway) is unraveling what precisely is happening. Suffice to say the narrator recounts through journal entries his experiences in a massive labyrinth he calls House where he is one of only two inhabitants. However,
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as the novel progresses the reader begins to suspect that all is not as our narrator perceives.

A quiet but compelling read in which the delight is the result of the world building and determining what exactly is going on. Being familiar with Clarke's previous massive tome, I was surprised by how slim this novel is but it packs a punch in its 250ish pages. Recommended if you like Clarke's previous works or if you enjoy a strange mystery with a hint of fantasy.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
Susanna Clarke’s first novel was my first introduction to the world of the Fae and is something I will never forget. Even though I read it years ago, well before I started blogging, the one thing I remember the most is the feeling of dread I had throughout the entire novel. In fact, when I recall
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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, that dread and the darkness of it are the first things that come to mind. I am happy to report that Piranesi has that exact same feel. It is creepy and atmospheric as hell, and you never quite overcome the unsettled feeling you have while reading it.

With two novels under her belt, I can safely say that Ms. Clarke always makes me feel like I am one step behind when reading her stories. It is as if I am playing catch-up regarding the characters and the events that happen in the novel. This feeling exacerbates the unsettled feeling her stories evoke as if I am missing something vital. It is FOMO but with an intense sense of dread about it.

The bright spot in Piranesi is Piranesi himself. He is so happy and content to be almost pure of heart and spirit. There is no doubt that he is a man, but you do wonder if he is completely real because he is just such a joy. As you learn more about him and his circumstances, you find yourself wanting to protect that innocence at all costs because it is such a rare thing.

The one area in which I feel Piranesi is lacking is in the whys behind the story. Ms. Clarke gives us the who, the what, the where, and even the how, and the when. But we never learn the whys behind various characters’ actions. Knowing this would certainly flesh out Piranesi’s story and the characters within it and would go a long way to satisfying my own curiosity.

However, I don’t think such character details are Ms. Clarke’s strong suit. Her writing is best when she leaves such things as motivation up to the reader to decide. Where Ms. Clarke excels is in evoking emotion, something she does in abundance with Piranesi. Because of this, I will most definitely wait another fourteen years for her to publish another novel.
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LibraryThing member shabacus
You need to read this book.

Do you remember the first time you played Myst and immersed yourself in a magical world, one that felt real and artificial at the same time? This book is like that.

Did you ever put together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the finished picture was, and gradually watch
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the full image emerge? This book is like that.

Did you ever stare at one of those Magic Eye posters, and feel a sudden rushing sensation of depth as abstract images suddenly became real? This book is like that.

This story is poignant and beautiful and mysterious and heartbreaking in all the right ways. I read it in a day, and immediately downloaded the audiobook so I could savor it all over again.

In case you missed it the first time—you need to read this book.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
From the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a remarkable work with characters who will always be with me.
LibraryThing member ShannonRose4
What I thought was a novel that started out plot-less surprised me by becoming so much more. A Strange, gothic and intriguing story of a man that lives in a house that is an endless labyrinth that has many statues and tides of its own. I don’t know how the author did it, but this story is one I
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won’t soon forget.
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LibraryThing member ShannonRose4
What I thought was a novel that started out plot-less surprised me by becoming so much more. A Strange, gothic and intriguing story of a man that lives in a house that is an endless labyrinth that has many statues and tides of its own. I don’t know how the author did it, but this story is one I
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won’t soon forget.
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Hugo Award (Nominee — Novel — 2021)
Nebula Award (Nominee — Novel — 2020)
Women's Prize for Fiction (Longlist — 2021)
Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2022)
Costa Book Awards (Shortlist — Novel — 2020)
Audie Award (Finalist — Audiobook of the Year — 2021)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — 2020)
Mythopoeic Awards (Finalist — Adult Literature — 2022)
World Fantasy Award (Nominee — Novel — 2021)
British Science Fiction Association Award (Shortlist — Novel — 2020)
Independent Booksellers' Book Prize (Shortlist — Fiction — 2022)
The British Book Industry Awards (Shortlist — Audiobook — 2021)
The Kitschies (Winner — 2020)
Italia Award (Winner — 2022)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2021)
Zsoldos Péter Award (Translation — 2021)
Dragon Award (Finalist — Fantasy Novel — 2021)
Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year (Science Fiction and Fantasy — 2020)
Notable Books List (Fiction — 2021)
Globe and Mail Top 100 Book (Fiction — 2020)
LibraryReads (Monthly Pick — September 2020)


Original publication date


Physical description

7.99 x 1.85 inches


1526622424 / 9781526622426
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