“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” is one of my very favourite books and yet it is a book that divided readers. I know close friends who have a similar eclectic taste in literature as I do who gave up after only a couple of chapters.
And now after waiting years and years for this book, I believe Susanna Clarke has done it again. This is almost a novella compared to the epic tome that “Jonathan Strange” is, however I think it will divide readers in a similar fashion once again.
The book takes place in a world inhabited by only two characters, “Piranesi” our protagonist and a character referred to as “The Other”.
This entire world is made up of a house with corridors which seem to stretch on infinitely. We are never sure because Piranesi is in the process of mapping these corridors. A Sisyphean task. The corridors are filled with statues. Statues that are beautifully described by Clarke. Statues which seem to come from all the different eras of our world, statues from all walks of life, statues unlimited in style and gesture.
Piranesi performs a masterful task because a wrong turn in the labyrinthine halls could lead to being lost forever.
This world that Clarke has created is beautifully written and vivid. There is a definite feeling of timelessness and infinity. The reader can see and feel the statues stretching of into the distance as far as the eye can see. Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an Italian artist famous for his etchings of imagined, but very realistic prisons, many times in a Roman style. It feels like Clarke has dropped the characters into one of Piranesi’s etchings. Clarke draws the reader into this world brilliantly and the etching becomes reality.
Piranesi regularly meets with “The Other” to share his mapping and finds. The reader will immediately be aware that Piranesi plays a subordinate role to “The Other”, and to say that they were friends would be a terrible stretch.
I feel that to say much more would spoil this book. I will say that “The Other” has his own motive and mission, but is Piranesi part of his plans?
I am quite certain that this book will be divisive amongst readers again, but if you enjoyed “Jonathan Strange”, love magical tales that are beautifully written, and ponder if there are mystical worlds out there, you may just love this as much as I do. 4.5 Stars!
Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham in 1959. A nomadic childhood was spent in towns in Northern England and Scotland. She was educated at St Hilda's College, Oxford, and has worked in various areas of non-fiction publishing, including Gordon Fraser and Quarto. In 1990, she left London and went to Turin to teach English to stressed-out executives of the Fiat motor company. The following year she taught English in Bilbao.
She returned to England in 1992 and spent the rest of that year in County Durham, in a house that looked out over the North Sea. There she began working on her first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
From 1993 to 2003, Susanna Clarke was an editor at Simon and Schuster's Cambridge office, where she worked on their cookery list. She has published seven short stories and novellas in US anthologies. One, "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse," first appeared in a limited-edition, illustrated chapbook from Green Man Press. Another, "Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower," was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award in 2001.
She lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.
Here is a wonderful link to npr and an interview with Clarke - https://www.npr.org/2020/09/14/911998413/home-sweet-labyrinth-susanna-clarkes-mysterious-piranesi-will-lock-you-in