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.
“I am the great scholar, the magician, the adept, who is doing the experiment. Of course I need subjects to do it on.” ~ The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis
“People call me a philosopher or a scientist or an anthropologist. I am none of those things. I am an anamnesiologist. I study what has been forgotten. I divine what has disappeared utterly. I work with absences, with silences, with curious gaps between things. I am really more of a magician than anything else.” ~ Laurence Arne-Sayles, interview in The Secret Garden, May 1976
Can we just pause and appreciate this ominous opening to Piranesi? When I first opened this book, these quotes seemed significant, but when I went back to them when I was about halfway through the book I was completely floored by just how significant they turned out to be. This book sets its readers up for a journey before they even hit chapter one.
To move on to the actual story itself, Clarke has created a fantastic world where an ocean can be contained in a house. Her writing style is stunning, and the imagery she describes is breathtaking. This book is truly a work of art in every sense of the world. Reading it felt much like Lucy must have as she left the wardrobe and entered Narnia. It is a beautiful blend of adventure and contemplation, forcing readers to learn things about themselves and their own world as they explore the world of Piranesi through his journal entries.
Aside from the world building, the story had all of the necessities: a lovable protagonist, an evil antagonist or two, suspense, a subtle commentary on religion and our views of nature, the whole thing. What made it truly excellent, though, is that while you could see nods to C.S. Lewis, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and classic Greco-Roman culture, it still maintained its individuality so well that I can hardly compare it to anything else.
So go explore the House. Join Piranesi and The Other as they attempt to find A Great and Secret Knowledge. Try and figure out how in the world an ocean can be contained in a house. Let Clarke take you on a journey to a new world and teach you a few lessons about your own. It will be well worth your time.