Review of ‘Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke

Everyone was talking about this book in 2020, when it was first published. Since then, it has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and has won or been nominated for several other awards. Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m suspicious of hyped books. This one has seven pages of praise at the beginning. I bought it from a charity shop and a few months later decided to read it. Uh-oh… controversial opinion alert!

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, showing a satyr statue on a column,

The story is written in a diary format by a man who lives in a house with an apparently infinite number of halls which are washed by tides. There are statues everywhere, which my imagination depicted as the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. This isolated character subsists on fish and seaweed. There is another man he sometimes meets who is studying the place. Then a mysterious new person threatens to change the status quo.

I found the first half of this short novel to be quite intriguing and it had a Gormenghast flavour which appealed to me. There seemed to be many possibilities as to the main character’s identity and the symbolism of various elements. The development of the academic theme was where the book started to annoy me. I wouldn’t want to spoil the book for anyone who still has it on their to-be-read shelf, or else I would say more, but I found the fictional scholarship, bibliographies, book extracts etc. so dull that I actually fell asleep while reading it! I wished that the story had taken a different turn, because unlike the critics, I was the opposite of enthralled, spellbound or captivated. Had it been written as genre fantasy, instead of literary philosophical fiction with a fantasy veneer, I probably would have enjoyed it more.

This edition published in 2021 by Bloomsbury.

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