When Susanna Clarke released her debut novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in 2004, it enchanted readers worldwide, winning Time’s Best Novel of the Year and the Hugo Award for Best Novel. An 800+ word tome, the story follows two magicians in the Napoleonic era on a quest to bring magic back into England. Armed with magic and wit, the novel flows with footnotes (referencing books real and made-up) and a pastiche style of writing (a combination of Dickens & Austen). Even Neil Gaiman, world-renown author and writer, remarked that “it was the finest work of English fantasy written in the past 70 years.”
At the crest of its success, illness crept into Clarke’s life, and she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.
With the spirit of a warrior, Clarke continues to persevere. But, at the time, she felt too overwhelmed to resume work on the Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell sequel. Instead, she returned to an older book idea and began to write — through illness, cloudy days, and a heavy mind.
Nearly two decades later, her second novel entered the world. Dubbed a “study in solitude” by The Guardian, Piranesi arrived in September 2020, at the height of Covid-19. And I must agree with the critics, it’s different from its hefty predecessor. Its size is probably the most noticeable distinction: small and slender, it does not attempt to rival the grandeur of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Unlike the bustling world and changing scenery of her debut, a quietness inhabits Piranesi. It’s a puzzle — but a delightful one.
I opened it tentatively, unsure what to expect with its peculiar summary. But all hesitation drained away after reading several entries. Struck by the vivid imagery Clarke paints with her words, I was quickly enwrapped in her World of wonders.CONTINUE READING