In the dream-like House encompassed by a sea, Piranesi is surrounded by beautiful statues, endless halls and even dangerous pathways. While this labyrinthine is the only thing he’s ever known, Piranesi discovers that there’s more to it than he realizes.
The fantasy novel follows the journal entries of Piranesi, a man who lives in a place called the House comprising infinite vestibules, intricate statues, and even an ocean that sweeps back and forth in it. Being the sole inhabitant of the House – besides an occassional visitor he calls the Other whom he does research with – he explores and takes notes of every nook and cranny of it in his journal. From the tidal patterns to the skeletons and statues, Piranesi has great respect for this World – but things start getting fishy about the only place he’s ever known, and we’re not talking about the ones he catches for food.
Like the House, the prose itself is beautiful – Clarke somehow makes statues and fishing sound intriguing. Although many fantasy books can have complicated world-building that can confuse or bore readers, Clarke’s descriptions are delightfully entrancing. From Piranesi’s journal entries, his appreciation and awe for the House is more than conspicuous, calling himself the “Beloved Child of the House.” It’s akin to how many people often view religion:
The Beautiful Orderliness of the House is what gives us Life.
Piranesi clutches to this as a part of himself, showing the importance of identity and how that is affected by the things we deem normal. In his mind, the House is also his entire World. A part of his existence is based on his interactions with other people, which is little to none in his mind – and this is what has also shaped some of his identity. While many might find constant human presence overwhelming, Piranesi wants nothing more but to meet with other people. His touch of innocence and curiosity makes his character fascinating, albeit he’s an unreliable narrator at times. He’s an astute observer with great intellect, yet very empathetic:
…What is a few days of feeling cold compared to a new albatross in the World?
Unlike Piranesi, the Other has no interest in the House itself, he’s rather interested in what he can extract from it: the Great and Secret Knowledge, something from the Ancients believed to be lost as time goes on due to humanity consistently progressing. While he is very familiar with the House, the other person who visits the House for research purposes called “the Other” emphasizes his lack of familiarity, not just with him but also with humankind in general. It further displays his sense of alienation towards the Other; the contrast between their personalities is like night and day.
The tone of the book gradually shifts from inspiring and captivating to almost mysterious and suspenseful. What I love about this is the fact that Clarke takes the mundane and spins it into a world of the obscure, the occult. Piranesi has pulled us into a peculiar world filled with harmony and charm, mainly due to his own perspective and traits. There’s a sense of mystery that never truly gets revealed. At the same time, aspects of the “normal” human world are incorporated into the ethereal unknown in such a way that sobers up the readers from the reality that we’ve been presented with. As Piranesi says:
The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.
This is one of those books that I feel confident recommending to everyone regardless of which genres they’re partial to.