Piranesi, Susanna Clarke; Chiwetel Ojiofor, narrator (Bloomsbury, $16.35, digital download, 7 hr., unabridged) September 2020.
The protagonist of this short work lives in the House, a building so big it has clouds in the upper floors and an ocean in the lower ones. He believes that this is the entire world, and apparently, the only world he’s ever known – except that his journal entries make constant references to concepts and things that require knowledge of things outside the House. This discrepancy doesn’t seem to bother him, though. He also believes that the only other person he knows, a man he calls the Other, has only the most noble of intentions. The listener clearly knows that that’s not the case, and it’s almost upsetting waiting for the protagonist (whom the Other calls Piranesi, although that’s not his name) to slowly and extremely reluctantly allow himself to doubt, as new people appear in the House and his own forgotten journals suggest the existence of at least one other world, one which will be very familiar to the listener.
Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor isn’t just narrating; he’s playing a role, in an amazingly convincing way. “Piranesi’s” time spent in the House has transformed him into a kind, intelligent, amnesiac naif. Ejiofor has to make you accept that Piranesi genuinely believes and to a great extent enjoys and reveres his patchwork existence. The combined talents of Clarke and Ejiofor make you believe in him, and even like him, despite his maddeningly stubborn desire to cling to what he thinks of as truths, however logically inconsistent they are.
This review and more like it in the January 2021 issue of Locus.
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