Hard to rate this book – 3.5 rounded down for now, but may round up over time. Immaculate vibes, but a bit thin other than that. The first third or first half is quite cool, while we just vibe and try to figure out what’s going on (how does the protagonist know all those things? etc). But then, we get enough hints to puzzle things out – and I think we are meant to; I never felt like being too much ahead of the curve, or like the author thought I’d be slow on the uptake. But then – what’s left after that? The self-discovery of a person I could never quite feel for, at times painfully slow, and an ending that still has impeccable vibes – which means that it leaves me quietly wanting, just like the entire book.
Regardless, I’m happy I read it – even if it was just a description of the House and its statues, that would’ve been entirely worth it.
(Though maybe without the Capitalisation of very Proper Noun – look, I’d read German books if I wanted more of that!)
Beware: full spoilers! Also probably incomplete and possibly incomprehensible.
The protagonist is alone at the House, and we read his diary entries. The house is an ecosystem of its own – there’s an ocean, always sweeping in and out, and infinite halls with tons of classical statues. Not much else. Birds. Fish. Piranesi and the Other. Some skeletons, too.
The protagonist appears muddled from the start, believing in the House as an entity, and appearing both naive and at odds with his environment – why can he measure and predict the tides, and how does he know so many words without referents, and where did he come from? Hints are dropped early on that both he and the Other are from our world, where the Other returns, while Piranesi is stuck at the House.
His earlier journals are missing, and he can’t recall making the entries in his first two journals. The Other is attempting a ritual, and warns Piranesi of Sixteen (in Piranesi’s words; there are 13 skeletons, plus himself plus the Other, so if any other person exists, they must be Sixteen); also, that Piranesi is confused and losing time and memory occasionally (apart from his knowledge of the House, which only ever increases). We see this kind of in action, when Piranesi for a short moment hears voices from our world.
Then he meets a new person, whom he dubs the Prophet. He reveals that the Other is called Ketterley and used to be his student. Also, that he himself spent some time in prison, and that he is/was a professor. He explains that gods and magic actually did exist in ancient days, and then left our world and went to the House, which he theorised about and finally found. The Magic isn’t really there anymore, but it passed through and left the House – and its statues, symbolising concepts and ideas – behind. Also, the Professor/Prophet professes to hate Ketterley, and that Sixteen is looking for Piranesi.
Ketterley becomes more and more deranged, threatening to kill Sixteen, and also Piranesi if he listens to her. Through Piranesi’s journal we learn that he used to be an investigative book author, and planned to write a book about Professor Arne-Sayle, who was imprisoned for murder and so on (guess where all the skeletons come from). Piranesi figures out (and then rationalises) that he understands some of the words referencing things he can’t know, like gardens, but not others, like the police.
Anyway, in his investigations, Piranesi met Ketterley, who dragged him over to this side and abandoned him here. He slowly lost his memories and, basically, became a different person. He finds a message by Sixteen, but erases most of it before reading it – then has regrets. He then figures out there will be a huge flood, which Ketterley resolves to use to lure Sixteen to her death. Piranesi figures out what’s happening (though painfully slowly).
The flood comes, he saves Sixteen, Ketterley dies. He first refuses to go back, not being who he was (Sixteen is a cop looking for him for his family), but Sixteen is very respectful of this fact, and in the end, his wish to not be alone wins out against his wish to witness the House’s beauty. He returns, and ends up identifying as a new person, neither Matthew nor Piranesi. He returns to the House occasionally.