|I am determined to explore as much of the World as I can in my lifetime. To this end I have travelled as far as the Nine-Hundred-and-Sixtieth Hall to the West, the Eight-Hundred-and-Ninetieth Hall to the North and the Seven-Hundred-and-Sixty-Eighth Hall to the South."|
Piranesi lives in a vast, sprawling House (always capitalized) that as far as he knows is the total extent of the world. The only other occupant of the House is a mysterious man called by Piranesi the "Other," whose mission is to rediscover long lost, ancient secret knowledge. Piranesi sees the House not as a means to an end, but an end in itself. His own life mission is simply to explore the House, incessantly recording his observations in a series of journals. The upper halls of the House are filled with clouds and birds. The lower halls are flooded by sea water, with high tides something reaching into the middle halls where Piranesi lives. All of the halls are lined with grand marble statues. It's a beautiful, if haunting, world.
The reader's job is to figure out just what kind of novel this is. Is this world a fantasy world the reader should accept as real? Or is it a figment of Piranesi's imagination? Is the whole novel a metaphor? If so, of what?
Slowly and gradually, Piranesi's faith in his understanding of the House begins to weaken. Are there other people in the House as well as himself and the Other? Is the Other telling him the truth about past events? Is the Other his friend or his enemy? Piranesi relies on his old journals as his own memory becomes unreliable. The journals are filled with early entries that he does not understand or even remember writing. Some seem to contradict the Other and suggest a world and people external to the House, much of which makes no sense to Piranesi. Eventually, the novel plays out in a way that explains what's going on, but without completely clearing up the mystery, without providing closure. It still leaves plenty for the reader to ponder.
Susanna Clarke has created a world like no other, beautiful and haunting, one that deserves a visit, with Piranesi as your guide. It will stay with you forever.
"Piranesi" is available in Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library.