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Written By:

Rachel Knightley


It’s been quite the wait since Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was published in 2004, becoming a bestseller and an instant classic. Her second novel, a very different exploration of magic, wisdom and folly, deserves to cast just as strong a spell.

Piranesi lives alone in The House, exploring and journaling its infinite rooms, staircases and corridors, and the statues that line them. He also journals the tides of the Ocean that sweeps through the House, ever grateful for the fish and seaweed on which the House sustains him, and for the twice-weekly visits of The Other, who lets him assist in using the House’s records to research a Great and Secret Knowledge. When The Other is absent, Piranesi is left alone to face the sea storms, and to attribute his own system of belief and meaning to the statues and skeletons who are his companions, constructing a sacred framework on the world around him for gratitude, sanity and a sense of time. When another person arrives from beyond The House, and The Other claims they are an enemy, it’s natural for Piranesi to believe it.

The mystery of Piranesi’s identity is a satisfying journey in itself, but still more so is the exploration of the stories we tell ourselves, and the inherent comforts and dangers of relying on them to tell us who we are. The journey towards balancing our private myth with interaction in the real world is brought across with effortless innocence in the voice of Piranesi, who reasons with the logic of an academic and the understanding of a child, giving compelling clues of the worlds that collided to bring him to this strange and beautiful incarceration, who he might have been before, and whether he wants to know.

For existing Susanna Clarke fans, the knowledge, intelligence and humour of Piranesi will be no surprise. Combining structural confidence and mastery of language with touching and understated clarity in its depiction of human wisdom, strength and folly, it’s a safe bet for readers of fantasy, literary fiction and anyone who enjoys insightful and beautiful storytelling.

Rachel Knightley

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