Piranesi by Susannah Clarke (book review).

Life is an endless labyrinth of possibilities but what if you somehow get stuck in the netherworld and you don’t even know you are trapped?

From Susannah Clarke, the writer who brought you the magnificent but huge ‘Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell’ comes ‘Piranesi’, which has 272 pages but is still vast in scope and in glorious technicolour.

The book is named after its protagonist Piranesi, who occupies a series of rooms in a huge and seemingly endless house. It is so vast that the tides come in certain rooms and there is danger when two oceans meet and clash.

The other occupants are all statues of unknown creatures and other humans and some bones. Piranesi does sometimes meet another occupant who is always busy and restless but he has no awareness of any ‘outside’ existing.

As we explore this curious world with him, identifying things that he cannot, we are drawn into this labyrinth and must attempt to map our own way out,. His incomprehension, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know is also ours. We don’t know if we are being asked to believe in another world or somehow the mental isolation of this human. We gather the evidence alongside him, using our knowledge of life and its systems. As Piranesi’s life starts to move forward and change, we are caught between wishing him well and worrying what will happen in ‘the real world’.

This is such an appropriate book for our time. I read it and am reviewing now in a state of lockdown. Our lives have been heavily proscribed and our movements watched. Our world has shrunk to four walls and if we are lucky somewhere pleasant to walk. We are bound to internalise and hopefully have some creative outlet to stop us landing in our personal hellish maze. This novel offers intriguing glimpses into the creative mind.

There are definite and specific references to the Narnia books which featured a perfect world beyond our grasp. It contains images of such beauty and sadness shining a light into the human heart and what we can achieve when we work together. ‘Piranesi’ offers us a view of our own blinkered existence and we just need to break out of the maze.

Sue Davies

February 2021

(pub: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020. 272 page hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-152662-242-6)

check out website: www.bloomsbury.com

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