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.
Wow, just wow. What a marvellous story.
I had initial reservations about purchasing Piranesi as it seemed to divide reviewers. Many loved it, others, mmm not so much. But I’m glad I went for it and buying the audiobook had the bonus of a masterful performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor. I was hooked from the start.
The story is told from entries in Piranesi’s journal. Meticulously recorded in his own unique fashion. It begins in the ninth vestibule of the House when he goes to see the joining of the three tides. Scaling the statue of the woman bearing the beehive to avoid being swept away. Unfortunately, he has miscalculated the height of the swell and but for the statue, he is almost carried away.
The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.
The ‘House’ contains thousands of halls spanning three levels all littered with statues. The lower tier is at sea level and prone to flooding at high tide while the upper-tier sits in the clouds. The House is also home to Piranesi (although he doesn’t believe that’s his real name), he eats and sleeps on the middle floor. For the most part, he enjoys his life recording the layout of the house and making notes of statues when he’s not fishing for food.
Piranesi is the only living person in the house apart from ‘the Other’ whom he meets twice a week for an hour. There are thirteen other people in the house including the “biscuit-box” and the People of the Alcove, but they are all dead.
It’s an intriguing start and from the off, we’re a bit in the dark. Not sure how long he has been there, or even how he arrived. Although it’s clearly been a long time since his journals began in 2012 and he’s since made his own unique calendar references. We believe he’s in his thirties.
ENTRY FOR THE FIRST DAY OF THE FIFTH MONTH IN THE YEAR THAT THE ALBATROSS CAME TO THE SOUTH-WESTERN HALLS
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. For a good hour into the recording, I thought it was all a bit bonkers… but I was entranced, the story just drew me in. Susanna Clarke paints the picture of a man who is at peace with his environment. He lovingly cares for the bones of the 13 dead, speaks to the birds in the house, and happily goes about his tasks.
It’s when Piranesi interacts with the Other that we catch glimpses all is not as it seems. The other is older, somewhere in his fifties, often found wearing a suit and carrying some sort of electronic device. The Other is indifferent to Piranesi, often ignoring him during conversations, regularly engrossed with his machine. His main purpose seems to be the quest for ancient knowledge enlisting the help of Piranesi. He often tells Piranesi that he thinks the younger man suffers amnesia from being so long in the House and that he’s concerned for his state of mind.
Events begin to move along when Piranesi is told that someone else may visit the House. The Other tells him “this person is your enemy, if you speak to them they will make you go mad”. He’s talking about sixteen, well, it will be the sixteenth person in the house and it’s how Piranesi refers to them. Things begin to unravel further when Piranesi begins to find other snippets of information around the house and details gradually become clearer.
Piranesi himself has a childlike naivety that makes him a little vulnerable and all the more endearing. He lives contentedly in the house, enjoying his tasks; cataloguing halls and statues, calculating tide patterns. He just accepts these tasks given to him by the other without question, happily in fact. He considers the Other as his friend, a little ingeniously it would seem. That the Other only appears twice a week for an hour at most doesn’t strike him as odd. He doesn’t question where the other goes in between their meetings, he just accepts.
For his part, the other is cold and calculating, appearing to treat Piranesi as an equal, but in reality, he uses him for his own ends. He has often given Piranesi gifts, but again many of these are to help him perform his given tasks.
It’s the character of Piranesi that really brings this story to life. His naivety is both endearing and at times produces genuinely funny moments especially some of his dialogue with the Other. There’s a certain fantasy feel about this novel as well as a mystery to be solved.
I loved this story, it’s got a slightly mad, endearing charm to it. It’s been a while since Susanna Clarke wrote the wonderful Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell but it’s been well worth the wait.
The production values on the audiobook were top quality and the casting of Chiwetel Ejiofor was just about perfect. He gave an excellent performance, which for me enhanced the story no end.