Not since reading J.M. McDermott’s fantastic Maze have I felt so pleasantly lost in a labyrinth.
Piranesi lives in a giant house made of endless halls. Each is filled with rows and rows of marble statues rising many levels high. Tides rise in the lower halls, sometimes converging to create dangerous floods.
The house provides food. Seaweed. Fish. Birds live in the halls, but Piranesi is mostly alone except for the fifteen skeletons, which he cares for, The Other, which he meets with twice a week, and another person whom he calls 16 but has not met. Piranesi keeps meticulous journals, which is how we experience their story. Nothing is what it seems.
The Other meets gives Piranesi presents and supplies, and asks Piranesi to explore the endless halls, taking meticulous notes. The Other would do it himself, but he knows what the halls can do to a person. The Other’s goal is to perform a ritual that will lead to ultimate power, because that is what made the halls, and he is convinced the power is still there, if they can just find it.
The Other tells Piranesi not to talk to 16. That 16 will drive him mad. But 16 doesn’t know what to believe. The Other tells Piranesi that they forget things, so Piranesi goes back through their journals, indexing everything, exploring events that they had in fact forgotten. Following breadcrumbs that reveal not only the origin of his mysterious friends, but the painful truth of who Piranesi really is. A truth they will struggle to accept and even long to forget.
The house provides. The house comforts.
It’s no wonder that Piranesi is a Hugo finalist. The writing is seductive, beautiful, haunting, mirroring the environment of Piranesi and their beloved statues. In many ways, the tale is static, all waiting to be revealed in journals. Statues and the past wait to be discovered. The tide rolls on, changing things slowly, smoothing them over, but the history is still there.
The reader knows more than naïve Piranesi, which can be frustrating at times as they wait for the Piranesi to catch up, but the ending is satisfying and well worth the wait.
In the halls of memory, the halls of history, it’s easy to get lost. If you’d like to get lost for a little while, Piranesi is an excellent book to take you away. Like the greatest museums, you get lost in its beauty.