Book review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi book review

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a mesmerizing novel that takes readers on an extraordinary journey through an otherworldly labyrinth. Published in 2020, this book marks Clarke’s return to the literary world after her highly acclaimed debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

With its unique setting, compelling narrative, and profound themes, Piranesi stands out as a remarkable work of modern fiction.

How is the Plot?

The story follows the protagonist, who calls himself Piranesi, living in an endless House filled with vast halls, intricate statues, and an ocean contained within its walls. Piranesi spends his days exploring the House, documenting its wonders in his journals, and taking care of its mysterious inhabitants.

He believes he is alone in this labyrinthine world, except for a figure he refers to as the Other, who visits him twice a week. The Other is a scientist conducting experiments, seeking knowledge and power from the House. He relies on Piranesi to gather information and assist him in his quest. 

How is the setting of Piran?

The setting of Piranesi is one of its most striking features. The House is an otherworldly place, a seemingly infinite labyrinth of grand halls and statues. The descriptions of the House are vivid and immersive, making readers feel as though they are wandering its endless corridors alongside Piranesi. 

Clarke’s ability to create such a detailed and enchanting world is a testament to her skill as a writer.

The House itself is almost a character in the story, with its own mysteries and secrets waiting to be uncovered. The ocean within the House adds another layer of complexity, with tides that rise and fall, creating both beauty and danger.

The setting serves as a backdrop for the novel’s themes of isolation, discovery, and the search for meaning.

How are the characters?

Piranesi is a fascinating and complex character. His innocence and curiosity make him endearing, while his resilience and adaptability reveal his strength. His interactions with the Other and his exploration of the House showcase his growth and development throughout the story. Piranesi’s journey from blind trust to self-awareness is both compelling and emotionally resonant.

The Other is a more enigmatic character. His motives and actions are shrouded in mystery, creating an air of suspense and tension. As the story progresses, Piranesi’s relationship with the Other becomes more complicated, adding depth to both characters. 

The dynamic between Piranesi and the Other is central to the narrative, driving the plot forward and keeping readers engaged.

What is the theme and message?

Piranesi explores several profound themes, including isolation, the search for truth, and the nature of reality. Piranesi’s existence in the House represents a state of isolation, both physically and mentally. 

His interactions with the Other and the discoveries he makes challenge his understanding of the world, prompting him to seek the truth about his reality.

The theme of memory is also significant in the novel. Piranesi’s journals serve as a record of his experiences and observations, helping him piece together the puzzle of his existence. The importance of memory and its role in shaping identity is a recurring motif in the story.

Another key theme is the idea of freedom. Piranesi’s journey is one of self-discovery and liberation, as he uncovers the truth about the House and his place within it. The novel raises questions about the nature of freedom and what it means to be truly free.

How is it written?

Susanna Clarke’s writing style is both lyrical and accessible. Her prose is rich and evocative, drawing readers into the world of the House with ease. The narrative is structured as a series of journal entries, providing an intimate glimpse into Piranesi’s thoughts and experiences. This format adds a layer of authenticity to the story, making it feel personal and immersive.

Clarke balances descriptive passages with moments of introspection and action, creating a well-paced and engaging narrative. The sense of wonder and mystery is maintained throughout the book, keeping readers captivated from beginning to end.

What is the overall impact?

Piranesi has been widely praised for its originality, depth, and emotional resonance. Critics and readers alike have lauded Clarke’s ability to create a unique and immersive world, as well as her skillful character development and thematic exploration. The novel has received numerous accolades and was shortlisted for prestigious literary awards.

Many readers have found Piranesi to be a thought-provoking and moving story, with its blend of fantasy, mystery, and philosophical reflection. The book’s themes of isolation, memory, and freedom resonate deeply, making it a powerful and memorable read.


Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a masterful work of fiction that captivates with its unique setting, compelling characters, and profound themes. The novel’s exploration of isolation, the search for truth, and the nature of reality is both thought-provoking and emotionally resonant. Clarke’s lyrical prose and immersive storytelling make Piranesi a standout book that will leave a lasting impression on readers.

Some Questions

What is Piranesi about?

Piranesi follows the story of a man living in an endless House filled with grand halls and statues, who explores its mysteries and uncovers the truth about his reality.

Who is the main character in Piranesi?

The main character is Piranesi, a man who navigates the labyrinthine House and records his observations in his journals.

What are the key themes in Piranesi?

Key themes include isolation, the search for truth, the nature of reality, memory, and freedom.

Is Piranesi suitable for all readers?

Piranesi is suitable for readers who enjoy fantasy, mystery, and literary fiction, as well as those who appreciate thought-provoking and emotionally resonant stories.

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