Piranesi - February 2021 Book Club

Poll!

  • Piranesi - Susanna Clarke
  • Mexican Gothic - Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • In the Vanishers’ Palace - Aliette de Bodard
  • Spoiler Alert - Olivia Dade
  • Night Shine - Tessa Gratton
  • Burn Our Bodies Down - Rory Power

0 voters

I am chronically behind on the actual books but I LOVE these threads and add all of the books to my list.

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I loved spoiler alert and will email the ebook to anyone who asks nicely.

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If I mysteriously receive a copy of spoiler alert, I can do book club

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The winner is: Piranesi! I just saw a review of it that said “too whimsical in the beginning for my mood right now” so I’m excited :smile:

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Yaaaaaas I’m in for Piranesi! I’ve been meaning to read it.

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The people have spoken! Sounds perfect for my mood right now, for some reason lately I’ve only been able to concentrate on either nineteenth-century coming-of-age stories or whimsical fantasy.

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yay my library has it. I’m always amazed when I can just download the book from my phone onto my Kindle. Like how does this magic work?!? It’s just going to be on my Kindle the next time I open it? What!?!

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I started reading Piranesi today. Has anyone else started? It feels like a cross between the Narnia books, especially Charn (and the homage to Lewis is quite explicit), and House of Leaves. I’m enjoying it very much.

I also seem to already be 10% of the way through it. I’m surprised at how quickly it’s going considering the author’s other novel is an enormous, slow tome!

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I read it last month - I really loved the chill explorey-ness of the start (and really, all) of the novel!

I think I actually read an interview where she said chain was a big influence? I didn’t get much of a House of Leaves vibe, just because I didn’t feel any sense of malevolence from the house (and also no pretentious meta-commentary) .

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I just got it out of the library – I need to finish another book first (I have seven going!) and then I’m going to start.

I am very excited about the description as Narnia x House of Leaves because those are things I love. Also I loved Jonathan Strange… so, yannow.

I was definitely surprised at how small the book was when I picked it up. :joy:

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Yeah, there’s definitely no malevolence here (so far)–I think it’s just the House seeming to have a will of its own that gives me a House of Leaves vibe. I do think it’s somewhat meta so far, though–the reader is not in Piranesi’s head, but in his diaries, and he has written about the diaries in the diaries.

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The word “minotaur” has just been brought up and noted as relevant. House of Leaves connection confirmed :laughing:

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OK, I finished it last night! It was fabulous and oh boy do I have a lot to say.

I loved how it was in dialogue with not only C. S. Lewis, but like… all the other things I’ve read with deep and mysterious and/or Western ceremonial/esoteric magic.

Laurence Arne-Sayles fits a specific type that fascinates me. He’s not just a cult leader… he’s specifically the slightly mysterious, amoral academic leader who pulls in a small group of extremely devoted followers with deep and mysterious knowledge. The same type shows up in Tam Lin and The Secret History.

Thoughts about consequences

And, of course, none of them really faces consequences.

Spoilers for Tam Lin

When Tom gets away, Medeous is just like… well this is going to be worse next time. No consequences in the text.

Spoilers for The Secret History

Julian isn’t involved in the murders, of course, but he’s not entirely blameless, either. And when things get rough he just sort of skedaddles. He doesn’t hang around for any emotional consequences and he certainly doesn’t get any legal consequences.

Technically, Arne-Sayles does have consequences, of course–he goes to jail! But that’s only a consequence what he did to James Ritter, not for what he did to Sylvia or any of the other people who died in the House. (Likely not all of them are his fault, but undoubtedly some of them are.) No consequences for pulling other people into things, either. He doesn’t seem to feel any remorse or sorrow. Ketterley is the one who has actual consequences, and he deserves them, but without Arne-Sayles he never would have gotten involved. (Then again, maybe he would, if he is indeed descended from or otherwise related to the Andrew Ketterley of The Magician’s Nephew.

Thoughts on Piranesi's memory

Through most of the book I thought that living in the House is what messed with Piranesi’s memory, but as I moved toward the end I thought I might be wrong and Ketterley messed with his memory on purpose. After all, he seems to retain things from after he arrived in the House just fine–like all the directions and the locations of the statues. And Ketterley lies to him about enough things that he could very well be lying about Piranesi losing track of the days and things like that.

But there isn’t any explicit revelation that Ketterley did anything. And James Ritter also seems to be messed up, whether by having lived in the House or having left it. So maybe it is living in the House that messed with his memory? What do you think?

Near the very end, Piranesi using statues as shorthand for people made me think of memory palaces, which is apparently a genuine memorization technique but is also associated with Western esotericism to me because of books it’s shown up in.

The ending also makes me think of this song:
https://genius.com/Peter-gabriel-solsbury-hill-lyrics

Anyone else have the hardcover version? There’s a really lovely second cover design under the dust jacket which I just found.

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This wasn’t really what I expected but I enjoyed it a lot!

spoilers hidden

I don’t think I’ve ever before read something in this specific niche of wholesome semi-horror epistolary portal fantasy.

Obviously this book is very different from Strange & Norrell, but I’m again impressed by Clarke’s ability to make a piece of writing seem deeply and accurately old-fashioned but unique to herself as an author. I’m reminded of so many stylistic influences I feel like I need some kind of mind map. Like, the structure of a first person narrative in journals where our hero learns a disturbing secret about himself owes a lot both to Victorian detective novels and to Lovecraft, but there’s something modern in there too, less xenophobic and more surreal.
Some of the characters explicitly claim that the House is also a representation of an older attitude towards nature. Don’t know if I believe that. For one thing, Piranesi has a pretty modern attitude himself, his entries about exploring the halls read more like Darwin than anything, and that doesn’t keep him from thriving. For another, it’s not like there aren’t still people practicing ancient religions involving a responsive connection to their environment, does Arne-Sayles think the Brits have a monopoly on ritual or something?
Anyway, I like this fresh take on portal fantasy, where the traveler’s response is neither ‘have an adventure that changes the world’ or ‘try to get home to the other world’ but ‘become the person who can survive in this place’. And Piranesi is so full of joy, which I needed this month.

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Summary

Right?! It’s a very colonialist attitude. Which fits well with the rest of Arne-Sayles’ character, honestly. And Ketterley’s (both Ketterleys).

“Wholesome semi-horror epistolary portal fantasy” is a great description. I’d love to read more wholesome semi-horror portal fantasy! Which I guess is what The Magician’s Nephew is, though I’d say it’s lighter on the horror than Piranesi since the horror of Charn is in the long past and doesn’t directly impact Polly and Digory.

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