By Susanna Clarke
Fans of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 megabestseller Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell have had a long wait for a follow-up. With Piranesi they’re getting something even odder, but more digestible.
Piranesi (not the artist, but named after him) is a fellow who lives in a very strange environment that’s both a giant house with labyrinthine halls filled with statues as well as a self-contained world with its own climate systems, animal life, and tides. As Piranesi explores this mythic world of pre-rational thought, reality and fantasy begin to merge. Is the House his home, or is he an exile? Where does he belong? That all depends on who he understands himself to be.
What the House is, and Piranesi’s real identity, remain open, perhaps unresolvable questions. Much of the novel reads like an allegory with no clear key to its meaning. One thinks of authors like China Miéville and Jeff VanderMeer today, with Borges and Kafka as predecessors. Good company to keep, but it makes for some odd sailing, even with such an accomplished storyteller as Clarke as skipper.