Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

I haven’t been so captivated by a book since before my daughter was born (and that was over 4 months ago!). I simply couldn’t put Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, down. Firstly, it’s incredibly unique: it blends our complex, busy, present world with a fantastical, simple, barren one. But if “Fantasy” is a no-go for you, this one is still worth a go – trust me on that. In my opinion, this book could just as easily be categorized as a psychological thriller, mystery, literary fiction, or sci-fi. It really has a little of everything.

Most importantly, though there are just two characters for much of the book, Clarke is somehow able to keep Piranesi’s voice interesting and the novel’s action moving quickly, even in a world where nothing much happens beyond the tides coming and going. It’s truly remarkable.

But beyond just the gripping plot and entrancing voice, there is so much happening in this novel on a thematic level. It asks huge questions of the reader: what happens when we’re left alone? What does it mean to be in touch with one’s surroundings? These questions (and so many others) are, perhaps, even more intriguing and insightful given our recent experiences during a global pandemic – sometimes Piranesi’s experiences hit really close to home.

With so many ethical, philosophical, and thematic overtones, I found it especially helpful after finishing this one to listen in on a few podcasts with the author. In particular, I’d recommend this discussion with Susanna Clarke, from Vox FM (I listened on Spotify, so you can find it there as well!).

10 for 10 I recommend this one to just about anyone.

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is one of those books you’ve seen a million times – in airport bookstores, on the subway, on your own shelves… At least, that’s how it seemed to me and yet, it took me until now to finally get around to reading it. Naturally, my expectations were high because of the book’s overwhelming popularity and longevity.

But to be honest, I was a little bit disappointed with this read. I anticipated a philosophical book with insightful or enlightening messages. And while certainly the book feels philosophical throughout, it’s primary message seems to be nothing more than the age-old “listen to your heart” (along with a few secondary messages that feel equally uninspired for me, like “follow your dreams”, “money isn’t everything”, and “love conquers all”).

I will say that I appreciated the accessibility of the language and the natural flow of the story, which combine to make the narrative fable-like in tone. It occurs to me that this might just be a book that found me at the wrong time in my life or in my reading journey, and I am at least glad that it seems to have resonated with so many readers who found it more inspiring than I.

What did you think of The Alchemist? Am I totally missing something? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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