Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

This is going to be a reasonably short review – term has begin and reading has been suspended for the foreseeable – but I had to attempt to get my thoughts down about Piranesi, Susanna Clarke’s first novel in sixteen years before heading off to plan and mark. I was tempted to just put ‘wtaf’ and leave it at that but this is not Twitter, and sometimes writing a review allows me to make sense of what I’ve just read … I made the mistake of starting the book before Christmas – I should have waited and then read it all in one sitting.

I should make it clear that I really enjoyed this novel – it’s strange and fascinating and poignant and original – and that I think Clarke is an incredible writer. In some ways, it reminded me of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, in as much as the fantastical setting and the discoveries that the narrator makes are slowly revealed to an unnerved reader. In other ways, it reminded me of The Truman Show – but I’ll stop there for fear of revealing too much – if you’ve seen the film, perhaps you know what I mean. The form is also reminiscent the Eighteenth Century novel with its use of journal entries and a sense of our narrator’s exploration of spaces beyond his known world. In short – it is a very clever novel.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition - 1761 - 01 - Title Plate.jpg

I can see why it has won plaudits and prizes. As with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, it is hard to class but beautiful to get lost in. It’s the sort of novel that sends you off to research the references and allusions (many people have likened it to Narnia, for example, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi‘s imaginary prisons are a clear source) and it is a novel that perhaps can never be fully knowable. But it is excellent and I’m glad I snuck it in before the marking pile became too hard to ignore.

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