Piranesi and Clarke

Kicks Condor alerted me to the imminent release of Susanna Clarke’s new book, titled Piranesi. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is long overdue for a re-read. I definitely was too young and obnoxious to appreciate it back when it was published.  (I sure hope I’ve gotten humbler and wiser by now; or at least, be able to enjoy Clarke’s apparently-genius writing more.)

But enough about Clarke. Piranesi is the name that grabbed my attention far more than hers. Le Carceri remains a profound influence upon my subconscious mind and imagination, far more than any other fantasy world-building. I wrote an essay about my visceral experience, but words can’t really describe how grand and otherworldly the Prisons are. My folio-sized artbook of full-sized art plates, laboriously hunted down after months via Abebooks, remains a prized possession in my library.

I suppose Clarke is the only author out there who’d conceivably write a whole novel about Piranesi and his Prisons. I look forward to reading it!

2 thoughts on “Piranesi and Clarke”

  1. Oh wow – didn’t realize the backstory on this! Thank you for taking the time to
    fill us in and sharing your essay/portrait. This amps up my (already
    considerable) excitement. And now I have something to read before Piranesi
    I’m not a fantasy reader at all – I have a difficult time connecting with the
    genre – I can’t seem to make it through Lord of the Rings even. (I enjoyed
    The Chronicles of Amber when I was a child.) But I actually view Jonathan
    as literary fiction. It feels more like a pastiche of Dickens, Austen
    and other 19th Century literary fiction (probably Henry James, too) rather than
    fantasy. (I’m also a big fan of Don Quixote and J.L. Borges – so perhaps I am
    a fantasy fan in a way.)
    Anyway, this comment of yours gets my hopes up that she has another pastiche in
    store, because she has to be one of the most talented stylers of this rare art
    that the world has ever encountered. (I guess it’s funny that I should say this
    off the strength of only one book – but it’s a mighty long book and one of the
    few that is entitled to such thickness.)

    1. I think you hit on it: Clarke’s fantasy is more literary than genre.

      These days, my taste for fantasy/speculative fiction has become more refined; straight-up, empty-calorie genre fantasy no longer satisfies. I find spec-fic authors like M. John Harrison and Gene Wolfe (if the spec-fic/SF genre can lay claim to a “literary” label, Wolfe has certainly claimed it) much more engaging to the mind. If Clarke is anything like them, then I think my reading taste has now matured enough to appreciate her.

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