In Review

Novel of the week: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

New novel is a work of ‘original strangeness’ which stays ‘lodged in your head long after you’ve finished reading’

Piranesi book

In 2004, Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, “became a publishing phenomenon”, said Justine Jordan in The Guardian. The acclaimed story of “two scholar magicians” in Regency England, it sold four million copies and was adapted for a BBC mini-series.

Soon after its publication, Clarke developed chronic fatigue syndrome, and for many years was largely confined to bed. During that time, she worked on a planned sequel to “JS&MrN”, but failed to make significant progress. Her confinement, however, appears to have helped inspire the “unique” follow-up she eventually produced.

Piranesi, which last week won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, is “the most gloriously peculiar book I’ve read in years”, said Alex Preston in The Observer. Its eponymous hero, a man of around 30, lives alone in a vast house that has tides sweeping through its lower floors, “pouring over the statues and ornaments, rushing up staircases”.

Piranesi knows of the existence of only one other person – a disdainful figure known only as “the Other” – who visits him twice a week. He believes only 15 people have ever existed: himself, “the Other”, and 13 more, whose remains are distributed throughout the house. But gradually, he starts to unlock the secret of his identity – and of his imprisonment.

This is a work of “original strangeness” which stays “lodged in your head long after you’ve finished reading”, said Sarah Ditum in The Times. So remarkable are Clarke’s descriptive powers that she makes “insane worlds feel as solid as our own”. Piranesi is “close to perfect” – and a deserving winner of the Women’s Prize.

Bloomsbury 272pp £8.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99

Piranesi book cover
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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