Susanna Clarke’s “Piranesi” Is A Stunning Novel Unlike Any Other

Angela Lashbrook
4 min readAug 21, 2020

The second novel from the author of “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” is strange and beautiful

I realised that the search for the Knowledge has encouraged us to think of the House as if it were a sort of riddle to be unraveled, a text to be interpreted, and that if ever we discover the Knowledge, then it will be as if the Value has been wrested from the House and all that remains will be mere scenery.

Piranesi lives a quiet life. He fishes, writes in his Journals, and cares for thirteen people (who happen to be skeletons) who are, at least as far as Piranesi knows, the only people who have ever lived, apart from himself and the Other. On Tuesdays and Fridays, Piranesi meets with the Other, a scholarly and pompous man, when they attempt to uncover a Great and Secret Knowledge.

His home is the House, a structure so large it encompasses Piranesi’s entire world. It has oceans with strong, dangerous tides that Piranesi keeps careful track of in his journals. It is home to a pair of albatrosses, the only other animals, besides the fish, that live there. Instead of living creatures, the House is full of statues: a statue of a gorilla, a statue of a young boy playing the cymbals, a statue of two men with strained faces as they emerge from the wall. These statues are his companions, and he loves them all, though he admits to himself — with some guilt — that he loves some more than others.

Do trees exist?
Entry for the nineteenth day of the fifth month in the year the albatross came to the south-western halls

Many things are unknown. Once — it was about six or seven months ago — I saw a bright yellow speck floating on a gentle Tide beneath the Fourth Western Hall. Not understanding what it could be, I waded out into the Waters and caught it. It was a leaf, very beautiful, with two sides curving to a point at each end. Of course it is possible it was part of a type of sea vegetation that I have never seen, but I am doubtful. The texture seemed wrong. Its surface repelled Water, like something meant to live in Air.

But Piranesi has questions. He doesn’t think Piranesi is his real name, for one, but he can’t remember any other. He doesn’t know what the Other is doing with all his time, nor does he…

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Angela Lashbrook

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.