Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a disappointing novel that lacks the spellbinding factor of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. In this review, I will outline why Piranesi disappointed me. However, I’ll also try to understand why others loved it. Judging by Goodreads, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke was a delightful read, full of intricate puzzles. But I’m not convinced. Although Piranesi has many strengths, it isn’t Susanna Clarke’s best.
Note: This post does not contain spoilers.
Piranesi’s Strength Is The Beginning
Piranesi starts strong. We enter a world that makes little sense with constricted information. Not only are we just as confused as Piranesi, but we are curious to figure everything out as well. Susanna Clarke deserves credit for her storytelling. However, this strength wanes as the novel progresses. The second part is not nearly as enchanting, and dare I say, is dull. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a novel lacking in ongoing mystery. One can’t read Piranesi and discard the feeling it could be so better.
A Moralistic Tone Does Not Fit The Novel
In the second half of Piranesi, Susanna Clarke resorts to genre conventions and moralism. Her characters go from ambigious to black-and-white. This is a shame for many reasons. Susanna Clarke sacrifices the most interesting aspect of her novel (the uncertainity) for genre conventions. I understand the appeal of ‘capture’ and ‘rescue’ stories, but Susanna Clarke was in a terrific position to subvert them. Sadly, she does not.
This is a problem I had with ‘The Night Circus‘ by Erin Morgenstern. I have no idea why these colourful, fantastic worlds resort to dull cliches of morality. No, I do not expect Piranesi to equate to the writings of Martin Heidegger. But some nuance in characterisation goes a long way.
Weirdness Is Not Charming
Every year, we are exposed to various works of fiction. It’s difficult to ‘weird’ a reader out. Piranesi tries very hard to demonstrate ‘weirdness’ but fails. Sure, there are eccentric oddities and curious character developments. But much of it is superficial, and did not resonate. A talented author should not rely on ‘strangeness’ to carry a story. Rather, they should develop characters, setting and plot. Piranesi does not do that well. Because of that, the weird aspects attempt to compensate the story’s shortcomings.
It’s Too Short
Piranesi is short. It’s not as big as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (by far). But it’s also not as long as most adult fantasy novels. Some may argue brevity is a strength for any writer. But I can’t shake the thought of Piranesi lacking content. There’s simply not enough story in this novel. Rather, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke reads like a several ideas glued together. The end result is awkward, and sadly, Piranesi could’ve benefitted from a longer length.
Susanna Clarke does not flesh out her ideas well here, and it’s a shame. This is because Piranesi could’ve been a terrific read. But sadly, it is forgettable and does not use its small word count well.
Note: Fiction can convey plenty with little words. If you’ve read short stories by Stephen King, Earnest Hemingway or Shirley Jackson, you’ll know what an author can accomplish in a short story. Perhaps Piranesi should’ve been longer or a short tale. Right now, it sits awkwardly in the category of ‘not really a novel.’
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