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.

2 Likes

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

3 Likes

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

2 Likes

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:

1 Like

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

1 Like

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.

2 Likes

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!?!

4 Likes

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!

1 Like

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) .

2 Likes

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:

1 Like

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.

1 Like

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

2 Likes

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

1 Like

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

2 Likes

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.

2 Likes
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.

1 Like

I finally read this y’all and HOLY SHIT I loved it. I’m a sucker for epistolaries and for stories about weird houses, and this is a great example of both. Clarke is such a good writer – a talented prose artist, a great storyteller, a great character creator.

spoilers beware

I love Piranesi’s love for the House and the Statues. I know it should probably feel creepy to me – here is a man betrayed and trapped in a labyrinth, losing his memories, struggling to survive – but fundamentally his reaction to being trapped in a labyrinth was to find the beauty and peace in it. That struck me as incredibly profound, not only the semi-trite wisdom of “find the beauty around you” but also the fact that a character could be profoundly, deeply mentally ill and also happy – because Piranesi is full of joy and love. It was profound and beautiful to read that.

Definitely love the capitalization scheme also. :wink:

I also really loved how she handled his coming back into his memories. There are so many little seeds from the very beginning – the Other only appearing at particular times, the little screen, the way he doesn’t know the House and always has goods from the outside world, the torn paper everywhere, the journal numbering, etc – and it just continues to develop until and through Piranesi/Sorensen’s realization of who he is. She really portrays how much a human being is not a static thing, but something constantly in flux, something always being created every moment. We watch someone integrate two parts of himself and it’s very deeply an ongoing and never-ending process.

@Clare-Dragonfly I do think that it was living in the House that messed with his head. By living in the House, he is in some way very literally living outside reality (or at least “normal” reality). He has to adapt, and it means that he cannot be who he always was. When he recovers his memories of Sorensen, well – he can’t be Sorensen again either. He has to become someone else, someone who contains both Sorensen and Piranesi. (And frankly, I don’t think Ketterley is powerful enough to mess with him that strongly. He can’t control Piranesi’s behavior, let alone his memories; all he could do was trap him in the House.)

The bit with the people-reminding-him-of-Statues also reminded me of the memory palace. There’s a lot about this book – all of Arne-Sayles everything, the House itself, Piranesi’s reaction to it – that make me think that Clarke is very familiar with the Western occult and ceremonial magic.

1 Like

Great essay about Piranesi on Tor.com:
https://www.tor.com/2021/05/12/susanna-clarke-piranesi-tbr-stack-book-review/

I really liked this bit.

There is a horrifying twist, and it’s important, but I don’t think it’s exactly the point of the book? … However, the twist does manage the improbable feat of making Piranesi even more lovable.

There’s also some good connections to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I naturally thought of when the albatross arrived (as well as the albatross that appears in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to guide them out of the nightmare darkness*), but didn’t remember well enough to compare.

  • I also thought of the Monty Python albatross sketch, but that didn’t seem relevant :laughing:
1 Like

OK, and since the essay referenced a “historical Piranesi,” I googled that phrase and got this:

Well, now the name makes sense. And apparently Coleridge was a fan of his work. Layers upon layers!

1 Like