“When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule.” As a first sentence that’s a big turn off for someone jaded by fantasy. But the book was recommended by my friend Tess, who is a sensible woman and a journalist and unlikely to send me off to some hokey warring kingdoms where women with shining braids and medieval gowns face boy warriors with superpowers who are battling some evil psycho. Happy to say this turned out to be one of the most original novels I’ve read since…oh, lets go back a lifetime to John Fowles’s The Magus. But without the horror.
Piranesi doesn’t need a name, because in the world there exists only him and one other. It is the Other who calls him Piranesi, which I discovered afterwards refers to a legend of a man in a labyrinth. There are some bone collections–of the world’s thirteen previous inhabitants, but the world, which consists of a web of statue-filled rooms and an encroaching sea, is not a place of transactions. Our narrator lives a scientist’s life between the sea that flows with complicated tides through the lower halls and the halls above open to the mist and rain. He is happy with his life, recording the tides and the statues and memorising the paths between the rooms. He fishes and gathers seaweed, talks to the birds and writes his journals. Twice a week he has a prearranged meeting with the Other, a well dressed, older man, who appears from nowhere, often bringing gifts for which Piranesi is grateful: new shoes, for example, fishing gear, or a torch. Together, the are on a quest for some great and secret knowledge.
I enjoyed coming into this book with no inkling of where it was going and I advise readers to do the same. So I’ll give nothing of the plot here, which goes from the inside out and never feels plotted at all.
Piranesi is a lovely narrator and a gentle soul and unravels the deep complexities of where he is and how he got there with grace. He is the most unlikely victim of a psychological thriller.
Strongly recommended. This book is fresh and I was totally uplifted by it.