Happy Tuesday! It is officially the time of the month when I divert from my TBR. I’ve been mood-reading and picked up a couple fantasy and dystopian books just to fulfill my need for escapism – and then I remembered that I wanted to finish reading all the books shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (full list here). Piranesi was easily the most appealing book to me when considering my current interests so that is what I started with. Overall, this book is utterly unique, so this review will also be a little different.
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.
Overall rating: 4.5/5
Read if you loved: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Content warnings: Trauma (other warnings should be included but they will spoil the story, I can provide them in the comments if anyone would like to know)
Phew, where do I begin? My impression of this book literally went from 2 stars to 5 stars over the course of ~250 pages. That has honestly never happened before so in order to share my perspective accurately, I’m going to talk about this book in two halves.
The concept of this book is fascinating; it felt as though Susanna Clarke picked out parts of her world straight from my dreams (or nightmares, depending on how you look at it). And thank goodness for that because the world-building and premise is really the only thing that kept me reading. I struggled to connect with Piranesi and the story – the beginning is slow, uneventful, and requires a bit of patience to push through the long parts. I found the random capitalization to be confusing, even though I knew it would eventually make sense, and honestly? I just didn’t get it. Until the 50% point, I was not truly engaged, slightly sketched out by the stellar reviews, and would have DNF’d if it weren’t for the how short this is. And I’m so glad I kept pushing through.
Once you hit the 30% mark and then the half-way point, things start to get really good. We move beyond Piranesi’s daily explorations and random yet seemingly innocuous interactions with the Other to the more suspenseful aspects of the story. Clarke achieves this masterfully, and it only keeps getting better. By the end of the book, I could not put it down. I literally did not eat dinner despite starving simply because I just had to finish it and know what happens. It’s not entirely unpredictable, but the way the plot unfolds and its execution is SO GOOD. The last 10% is what elevated this book to a true work of art. And guys, I get it. I get it now. This is one of those books where the impact doesn’t quite settle in until you see the whole story. The nuanced exploration of the fickle nature of memory, identity, and how their dichotomous relationship with the environment is sublime. I don’t even have another book to compare it to because I’ve never been on a reading journey such as this one, and I could not recommend this book more. I left off half a star because I can’t justify giving this 5 stars when I was so not into it at the beginning but maybe on another day, if I was in the right mood, it would easily be 5 stars.
I would absolutely recommend Piranesi, and if you’ve tried but struggled, just trust me and keep going. It’s so good I don’t have the words to describe it. I’m still reeling over it and that appreciation largely came at the end. I cannot wait to continue reading through the shortlist because not one of the three selections that I have read so far has disappointed.
Reviews of books shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize For Fiction