book review

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Piranesi: THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER (High/Low): Clarke,  Susanna: 9781526622426: Books

I bought Piranesi a while ago for my boyfriend, who is a big fan of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell, but I confess I didn’t know much about it/wasn’t that intrigued by it until it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize last month. I’m trying to read as many as I can from the list, and as this one was already on my shelf, it felt like a good place to start.

I went into Piranesi knowing virtually nothing about the story, and to be honest, I think that’s the right way to go. I hadn’t even read the blurb! So I’m going to give you the briefest hint of the novel, only telling you what you’d read in the first couple of pages: Piranesi lives in a building with an infinite number of rooms, all lined with statues, and which is periodically flooded by the ocean. He only knows one other person, who he calls The Other.

That’s it! If you’re intrigued, you should definitely pick up the book to find out more.

This is a slightly disorientating, very atmospheric read. I enjoyed the first-person narration of the main character, and the sense of humour that Clarke instils in the narration. This is a short novel, and I read it over two sittings – it’s very immersive, so it’s easy to lose yourself in what’s going on. I spent a fair amount of the first half of the novel trying to figure out what was happening, flicking back to earlier parts of the story to re-read bits and see if I could work out what was going on.

The confusion of that first half was definitely the best bit of the novel for me – I enjoyed not knowing what was happening and trying to figure it out. However, I did think that everything was revealed a bit too quickly, and once you worked it out, some of the fun and mystery of the novel disappeared. It didn’t help that as readers, you understand more things than the main character does, so you work things out quicker than him.

I enjoyed this novel and think that Clarke is a very talented writer, but overall found it a little bit lacking – it’s interesting, but the second half of the novel fell a bit flat for me and I wanted more from it! Overall, I would say this novel has lots of potential but I’m not sure it was realised.

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