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Piranesi by Susanna Clarke


by Susanna Clarke

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Quick take

Enter a strange, magical, curious world that feels like a dizzying dream you won't want to wake up from.

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Piranesi's house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Piranesi.

Part 1


When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule to witness the joining of three Tides. This is something that happens only once every eight years.

The Ninth Vestibule is remarkable for the three great Staircases it contains. Its Walls are lined with marble Statues, hundreds upon hundreds of them, Tier upon Tier, rising into the distant heights.

I climbed up the Western Wall until I reached the Statue of a Woman carrying a Beehive, fifteen metres above the Pavement. The Woman is two or three times my own height and the Beehive is covered with marble Bees the size of my thumb. One Bee—this always gives me a slight sensation of queasiness—crawls over her left Eye. I squeezed Myself into the Woman’s Niche and waited until I heard the Tides roaring in the Lower Halls and felt the Walls vibrating with the force of what was about to happen.

First came the Tide from the Far Eastern Halls. This Tide ascended the Easternmost Staircase without violence. It had no colour to speak of and its Waters were no more than ankle deep. It spread a grey mirror across the Pavement, the surface of which was marbled with streaks of milky Foam.

Next came the Tide from the Western Halls. This Tide thundered up the Westernmost Staircase and hit the Eastern Wall with a great Clap, making all the Statues tremble. Its Foam was the white of old fishbones, and its churning depths were pewter. Within seconds its Waters were as high as the Waists of the First Tier of Statues.

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Why I love it

Listen, no one would ever accuse me of being particularly comfortable with ambiguity—which is why I rarely pick up a book without knowing exactly what I’m getting myself into. So when I cracked open Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi with very little idea of what to expect, I took an uncharacteristic leap of faith. I’m thrilled to report it was a leap worth taking.

Piranesi is absolutely certain that there are 15 people in the world: two living and 13 dead. Both scientists and men of utmost reason, he and “The Other”—the only other living human—search vast statue-lined halls for a Great and Secret Knowledge. But cracks start to form in the foundation of his beloved House when a 16th person makes an appearance—and Piranesi’s understanding of the world begins to splinter alongside it.

Reading Piranesi is like putting together a puzzle without the image on the box as reference. You know there’s a bigger picture, but you can’t quite make it out until certain pieces fall into place. I reveled in each uncovered scrap of information, hoarding clues until I reached that satisfying moment of revelation. A mystery embedded in a fantastical setting, Piranesi is the book for puzzle-solvers and dreamers alike.

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Member ratings (8,323)

  • Isaac W.

    West Hollywood, CA

    A truly wonderful book that just brims with mystery and imagination. It could easily be a by the book thriller and instead Susanna Clarke completely upends the layers and tells a magical story! ❤️❤️❤️

  • Maggie B.

    Norfolk, VA

    What bounds the borders of ‘reality’? Whose perspective parses ‘sanity’ from ‘madness’? Piranesi is a story unlike any other. One of the cleverest uses of a protagonist I’ve encountered. Read! This!

  • Sarah U.

    Edwardsville, IL

    I will say the book didn’t start to truly intrigue me until page 100 but I will tell you it’s absolutely worth sticking with it. This book will change how you view the world. You’ll be haunted by it.

  • Amanda R.

    Springfield, VA

    I enjoyed this book, though it was hard to follow at first. You begin to understand our character is in a parallel world and he says he’s a scientist researching the “house”. Something isn’t right.

  • Sydney B.

    Saint Louis, MO

    I’m infatuated with the world of Piranesi. Clarke’s vast description of so little- a place of only stone and water- has built an infinite home for all minds to wander and reside, just as Piranesi has.

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