Piranesi resides in an alternate reality. A world within a rather expansive house. There are endless corridors and vestibules. Vast rooms with towering statues capturing a variety of scenes- a formidable gorilla, a king holding court, a gardener pruning. This world is filled with mysteries and hidden dangers. Galleries obscured by mist and clouds. At intervals, entire sections of the house are submerged by oceanic waves. It is for the most part a quiet place. Its museum-like tranquility is only occasionally interrupted by the squawking of birds. Piranesi has inhabited this world for a long time. He knows the house intimately, having explored its many halls, logging detailed notes of discoveries and peculiarities. The house provides him with his basic needs, and in return, Piranesi reveres it. He is at peace here, albeit a lonely peace. But he is not entirely alone. Twice a week, Piranesi meets with a mystifying character, he refers to as, The Other. The Other is in search of a powerful secret knowledge that he believes exists within the house. And because of his reluctance to investigate the halls himself, The Other relies heavily on Piranesi and his specific expertise. However, this reliance does not square with the dynamics of their relationship. The Other is imperious and manipulative. He flares up defensively when his ideas are challenged, and his high-handedness restrains Piranesi. This is not a relationship of equals. When Piranesi receives a cryptic message from an unexpected visitor, he not only begins to question his loyalty to The Other, he also starts to suspect there may exist a world outside of his own. A world of people and deeper connections-something lost and desperately waiting to be found.
Piranesi is a fascinating novel. It starts out as a strange and seemingly benign fantasy. However, as the story progresses, it slowly transitions into a far more disturbing tale. A mystery slash thriller, with twists and turns, many of which you see coming, but it doesn’t make it any less menacing. Susanna Clarke manages to create a story that exposes the darker more sinister aspects of human nature. Yet she also illustrates how even in darkness a source of light can be found. Piranesi has found it. It requires a different way of being; a gentler, more generous way of engaging with the world at large. Now more than ever, we need this light.