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My Top Book of 2021: A Review of “Piranesi”

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

*SPOILERS*

Reading in 2021, for me at least, took a back seat. What with being a third year, transitioning into fourth year at university and working during the summer – I honestly didn’t get much free time to read. But I am quite fortunate in that a lot of the books I did get a chance to read, I massively enjoyed and they have instantly become some of my favourites that I’ve ever read.

My top book of 2021 is Piranesi, a fantasy story by Susanna Clark, released in 2020. If it is at all possible, Piranesi is the kind of book that you should approach knowing as little as possible about, so as to not spoil the delicious mysteries it brings and the ways in which they are unveiled. It is a story that is confusing and disorientating, but it works.

The book opens to the narrator, Piranesi, describing his life in The House, an endless collection of halls and vestibules filled with an eccentric assortment of statues, windows that stretch to the stars, basements that flood with the crashing tides. Something about the book I adored was the incredible world building: I could clearly visualise what the halls, vestibules, statues, everything looked like.

The book is written in diary entries as Piranesi attempts to record his daily life in The House. Through his entries, we learn Piranesi is not alone in The House, in fact he is one of the sixteen people who have ever existed; including himself, the Other, the thirteen skeletons that he’s pieced together – and Sixteen, the reader. I really liked that the reader was referenced in the book, and how this almost broke the fourth wall. At the same time, the reader is always kept at a distance. Because of this, I felt like I was learning things about The House and the Other alongside Piranesi – the slow story-telling builds tension that creeps up on you and becomes quite sinister.

There was a clear sense of character all the way through the book, even though Piranesi doesn’t know (and doesn’t question) his past or present. It was fascinating that you can feel the transgression of Piranesi realising who he is, and his mind and memories coming back to him. Even though Piranesi finds a way out of The House and becomes Matthew once more, The House is still with him – the last line shows that The House still has a hold of him, it reads:

“Beauty of the House is immeasurable; it’s kindness infinite.”

If I absolutely had to pick something that I didn’t like about Piranesi, it would probably be that I found it hard to connect to the story at first. But I pushed myself through the confusion, and by around page 70, the infinite labyrinth of The House had swallowed me whole. So much so that I ended up reading the book in one sitting. I just had to find out what was going on.

I’d give Piranesi 5/5 stars as honestly I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope I may have convinced others to give the story a go.

Image credit: Molly Whitehouse, VSCO