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House of Leaves with a Piranesi Chaser

This one time I read the same book twice in two months. I’ve re-read many books many times–calling you out, Jane Eyre! Usually I put a few years between reading and re-reading but all that changed when I read Piranesi by Susanna Clark.

The first reading was one day in October of 2020. It was a quiet day, a happy day. My husband and I had rented a little cottage in the woods for a few days during lockdown. It was our tenth anniversary and at the beginning of the year we had planned to take a two week trip to Italy where we’d gone for our honeymoon, but then a plague came and we ended up going someplace closer to home and more solitary.

We are both readers, or were in our youths anyway, so we brought some books. I only brought Piranesi which was a mistake because it’s short and I finished it the first day.

The main plot and premise of this novel is easily found, and it also seems that most people realize that the titular character is Black–I didn’t realize that until my second reading so I’m glad I read it again. It takes place in a House that seemingly never ends. In order to properly imagine this House, you should look at some pictures by the 18th century Italian artist Piranesi.

The House is labyrinthine, mysterious, and a character in itself. It’s magical and dangerous.

I decided to re-read Piranesi two months later and I’m not sure why. You can only read this book for the first time once. Afterwards, it’s an entirely different experience. Maybe I thought it would be a palette cleanser after reading House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski which also features as a main character, a house.

This House is also labyrinthine, mysterious, and dangerous. Very dangerous.

In fact, the whole book is labyrinthine, mysterious, and dangerous. And sandwiching House of Leaves between two readings of Piranesi–well, I recommend it.

The whole experience left me in a very strange headspace. The kind of headspace that, in my twenties, would have made me quit my job and move to Vermont or something–except I’d already done that 20 years prior.

If I ever get around to posting actual book reviews here at the Almanac of Dreams, I’ll write them up for these two books. I took copious notes on House of Leaves, but I may have to re-read Piranesi again.

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