When the House is Alive

My book recommendation for this week is something to get your mind off all your schoolwork, but you can read it quickly enough to return to your schoolwork in a timely manner: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. The book is narrated by a peculiarly childlike man who appears to live in a universe parallel to ours, which is a sentient House made up of infinite corridors, staircases and empty rooms. For him, the House is the whole world, a gentle and benign world, the upper floors filled with cloud. He explores the apparently endless House, and lays flowers beside the bones of a few other humans, though he had no idea who they were or how they came there. He receives visits from a man he calls the Other, who, we quickly realize (though the man doesn’t because he has no reference point for what it is), uses an Iphone, and seems to be interviewing him.

This book took Clarke sixteen years to complete, though it is very short. In that time, she lived with complex chronic fatigue and mysterious ailments, and this is very much a work considering what time is, what memory is, what a body is, and how nebulous any notion of personal identity is, how easily dissolved. It’s a philosophical work masquerading as a fantasy/mystery novel, and it unfolds as all those things at once.

A practical note: my last day on campus will be Tuesday, April 16th. I still have some slots left for students who want to chat about their work or their writing plans. Last call.