Reviewing: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor

A copy of the audiobook was provided by netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Content warnings: Character death, discussions of madness, dubious consent in a past relationship between two men. 

My rating: 5 Audiobooks out of 5

Highlights: 

  • Honestly the narration quality of this audiobook was second to none. 
  • The imagery of the house and its many rooms of oceans and clouds was gorgeous.
  • It’s just such a surreal and beautiful book, the whole thing was like a dream. 

The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.


Piranesi is one of those books that suddenly seemed to be EVERYWHERE, and with one glance at the cover it was obvious I was going to read it. So when I got the opportunity to listen to the audiobook (thanks netgalley!) I snatched it up. I’ve been devouring audiobooks and podcasts at work and within minutes of listening to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s smooth, calming voice I knew this was going to be an excellent one. 

The House that makes up the world has many rooms. Some contain oceans that crash through the halls like thunder, others contain clouds, all contain statues. Among the vestibules of statues lives Piranesi – though he does not think that is his name, not really. But he must have a name, and this was given to him by his only friend, and so he has kept it. A scientist at heart, Piranesi spends his days mapping the vast expanses of the house, noting the movements of the water, the nesting of the birds, and keeping a journal of all he finds. The Other, the only other living human being Piranesi has ever met, is a scientist too, and a dear friend. They cross paths once a week within the echoing rooms, and Piranesi is content. Of course, when signs begin to appear that there may be another among them, what is a scientist to do but research? 

This is a difficult book to talk about, which is great for a book reviewer let me tell you, it’s honestly like stepping into an Escher art piece, but with an odd sense of tranquility to go alongside the sensation of being imprisoned. The house goes on and on in infinite directions and yet contains the world within its walls; it is a prison and a place of safety all in one, and the images of the statues in every room, the shifting oceans and stars and shoals of fish were just so beautiful. 

Piranesi himself is simultaneously thorough and minutely detailed in his scientific approach to The House as well as almost childlike in his naivety. He speaks of the infinite kindness of the House, and disregards his own – moving the remains of the dead he has never known to a safe, dry vestibule on days where the oceans rise, leaving them gifts of flowers and speaking with them to assure them that they are not alone. 

This is definitely a literary book, and it won’t be for everyone – I feel like listening to it was the right choice for me, as I get the impression it would have been quite dense to read on the page for my pandemic-induced-sludge of a brain. If pompous academics irritate you, be warned, there are several of them in this book. It is, however, gorgeous enough in narrative to balance that out, and Piranesi is the perfect balm to the others. 

I can understand why everyone was talking about this book. Susanna Clarke is an extremely talented writer, with a gift for imagery that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. It’s a slowly unwinding mystery of a book and it has stayed with me long after the audiobook drew to a close. 

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