During the pandemic, reading became a necessary method of escapism for many of us. We partnered with The Reading Agency to support six UK-based reading groups whose members have benefited from talking about books, enjoying the escapist element of it as well as the social aspects of the group, too.

We are excited to share our next review from one of our six reading groups, Reading Women, set up by avid fans of the Women’s Prize to discuss our 25 previous winning books. During a year where many of the members have been isolating, the experience of forming the group has not only been fun but also offered the much-needed opportunity to talk about something other than the pandemic. As things start to slowly open up, the group continues to look forward to meeting each other in person at long last.

Their allocated novel Piranesi by Susanna Clarke sparked a passionate discussion covering a range of topics; the effectiveness of the second half of the novel, the lack of women, and the captivating protagonist. Generally, most of the group enjoyed Piranesi – especially the first half of the novel. Read on to find out what they said!

‘A haunting and descriptive creation of an alternative world, which I could have kept on exploring! Piranesi left me thinking about its lofty halls for weeks afterward, and how it drip-fed its mysteries to the reader.’

‘Charming and beautifully told, a portrait of a parallel world where the key themes are memory lost and regained, wide-eyed wonder, and radical self-reliance. A story that considers the best and worst of human nature and in which curiosity vanquishes.’

‘The first half of the book was enchanting and immersive. The captivating beauty of the House reflected Piranesi’s wide-eyed wonder. However, the intricate subtlety subsided slightly as the plot progressed. I felt that the under-use of Sarah Raphael (the only living woman in the book) felt like a missed opportunity.’

‘Piranesi is a story of two parts – the first half was beautiful, and I got completely lost in the magical world Clarke created. The descriptions of the tides and the marble statues were magnificent, and I could have happily read a whole book based on the world. I loved the character of Piranesi and his childlike innocence, his devotion to the dead, his practical approach to surviving in the House. The second half of the book read more like a page-turner thriller to me. I still enjoyed it, but it felt less unique and magical.’

We hope you enjoyed Reading Women’s thoughts on Piranesi. Buy Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi and the other five shortlisted books from Bookshop.org here and download our bespoke Piranesi reading guide here.

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