Review: Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Mhmmm. An interesting one, this. It reminded me a lot of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which I did enjoy with some reservations, and that was very much what I found with this book as well. I tend to not really enjoy these sorts of high-concept mysteries, where the solution comes about by some kind of supernatural means - I prefer it when the solution has a very firm grounding in reality. Having said all that, though, something about Piranesi really worked for me - the puzzle was abstract enough that I enjoyed thinking about it while also giving me enough of reality that I never felt like I was thrown into a college philosophy class I hadn't actually wanted to take.
I think maybe it had to do with the sheer quality of Susanna Clarke's writing - crisp, clear, effortlessly inventive and not a single word out of place. And the premise of this novel is also quite clever and inventive, and does a lot of really interesting, subtle thematic and word play on labyrinths and the Minotaur myth - in fact, sometimes the wordplay was so subtle I didn't even notice until several paragraphs later, and I would get pulled up short by the cleverness of it every time.
I also really enjoyed the ambiguity of the text, and the way the resolution felt both earned but also phenomenally messy. Nothing fell into place easily, either for Piranesi (the main character) or the police officer who rescued him; and Piranesi's return to the normal world doesn't come free, and he's not miraculously cured post-rescue. He and the people around him have to actively work to understand what's happened, and agree to make sacrifices and compromises about their understanding of his story.
One thing that did put me off a bit - the pacing felt a bit patchy. This was a short book that isn't quite read in-one-sitting (mostly because it's so clever it deserves to be spread out so you can savor it as much as possible), but the book felt disproportionately split between when Piranesi was in the other world and when he starting to piece everything together. The world building is leisurely and enjoyable, but then it all picks up and starts moving too quickly in comparison to the hundred pages that came before, and the ending itself - even though I enjoyed, as previously stated, the ambiguity and open-endedness of it - comes very quickly, and it made the book feel a bit globally out of sync. The slight disjointedness is probably what will ultimately leave this book off my Top 10 of 2021 (it was in the running for the first 130 pages!), but it was still a really good start to my 2021 reading year, and I'm really quite looking forward to reading more of Susanna Clarke's work.
All told, though, I really enjoyed this book, both the writing and the inventiveness of the story. If you like clever puzzle books, and stories open to multiple interpretations, this might be just the ticket for you.
As ever - let me know if this strikes your fancy (or add it to your Goodreads shelf and I'll see it, I guess), or what you've thought of it if you've already read it!