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Piranesi by Susannah Clark

The idea for this newsletter grew out of something I read called 5 best book covers of…, you know the sort of thing. They all start with a number. It seems we can’t resist the combination of a number and the word ‘best’. The book covers were, in my not so humble opinion, awful. So I pulled books from my shelves until I found five I liked and photographed them. From there grew the idea. These were not just great covers; they were books I had read and enjoyed. Why not share them?

Susanna Clark wrote Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. You are going to know that if it’s the last thing the publisher does, because it’s the only thing that mars an otherwise classically elegant cover. Don’t dismiss Piranesi out of hand if you didn’t like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. It’s recognizably a book from the same author with the same skills but it’s a different book, a lot shorter apart from anything else.

In Piranesi you plunge into an alternative world through the journals of a character of such innocence you just want to hug him. You soon know his world intimately because that’s how he knows it. At the same time you know it isn’t the only world he has ever known, because he might be innocent but his cultural references are our cultural references and his scientific rationalism is our scientific rationalism and your ever-active mind tells you that he probably belongs in our world, and that our world is more real than his. Then, you feel sad because his world is so beautiful and mysterious and he negotiates it so perfectly.

It’s a mystery plot, of the “What’s really going on here?” type. You might not find out, at least not from the author. You have to bring your own thoughts to bear on this book. The book reads itself to you, then you read the book to yourself, and when you close the cover you think, “What was all that about, really? But it was wonderful. Or at least it contained wonder. Wherein does that wonder lie?”

If you like world-building and intensely close-up first-person narration, Piranesi is a good read for you.


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