Piranesi
by Susanna Clarke
2020, Bloomsbury

Piranesi is a fantasy novel of the literary bent, by the author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. This novel has much the same overall tone, although it has a very different setting.

Piranesi lives in a strange dreamlike world, a world consisting entire of an endless house -- or possibly temple -- surrounded by and partially submerged in the ocean. The tides of the ocean sweep through the lower levels of the house, and would prove deadly to anyone who had not spent years mapping the house and the tides. Piranesi has.

And that is very nearly all I can tell you. The story is driven almost entirely by the reader slowly discovering the oddities of Piranesi's world, and eventually, Piranesi discovering some new oddities of his world. There is not so much a plot as there is an atmosphere, specifically the atmosphere of an endless mansion drowning slowly beneath the waves, populated only by giant statuary and one wandering man.

The book is dreamlike and aggressively mysterious, and balances on the edge between an exciting exploration of a inexplicable world and the monotonous slog of mapping endless empty rooms and developing tide charts. If you have any urge to read literary fantasy or explore mysterious dream-like worlds, you should definitely read this. If those sound a bit boring, you maybe should still read this; I don't generally like dream-like worlds, but this was a very concrete, rule-based dream, and I do like weird, slow-reveal plots, of which this is an excellent example.

SciFiQuest 3021

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