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Image / Living / Culture

#IMAGEReads: Brilliant and unusual ‘Piranesi’ wins Women’s Prize for Fiction


by Jennifer McShane
08th Sep 2021

Photo: Sarah Lee

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Susanna Clarke’s second novel feels eerily relevant and was a worthy winner among strong competition.

Susanna Clarke has won the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction with her second novel, Piranesi, published 16 years after her bestselling debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

It is an unusual story to explain; beginning as the diary of a man trapped in a vast mysterious mansion, an ocean rising and falling, imprisoned in the house with him, and he in a dreamlike state of contentment. It’s an eerily beautiful setting in which to experience aloneness – and yet it feels uneasy.

In reading, you enter another world, a philosophical fantasy that feels surreal and peculiar, but given the pandemic we are currently enduring, nothing now feels as such and perhaps this is why it so vividly connects to the reader. The study of isolation within its pages as relevant as ever, the novel was inspired by the work of the 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, as well as CS Lewis’s Narnia and the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges.

“We wanted to find a book that we’d press into readers’ hands, which would have a lasting impact. With her first novel in 17 years, Susanna Clarke has given us a truly original, unexpected flight of fancy which melds genres and challenges preconceptions about what books should be. She has created a world beyond our wildest imagination that also tells us something profound about what it is to be human,” Chair of judges and Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo said.

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Set up in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction by women to the widest range of readers possible, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is awarded for the best full-length novel of the year written by a woman and published in the UK between April and March the following year. Any woman writing in English – whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter – is eligible.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, approx €9.99) is out now

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