More January Recommendations

January 2021’s being nice to me or I’ve just hit a lucky streak with enjoyable books. Last time, I talked about two good books; this week I’m going to talk about two even better good books.

So, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Naturally. I was a fan of her writing in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, so of course I perked up when I heard she (finally) had a new book coming out. Then I heard the premise: strange amnesiac caught in a house/world/labyrinth and thought eh, maybe not. But I checked it out of the library (LOVE THE LIBRARY!) and started it with some trepidation, expecting to find the narrative voice of Piranesi hard-going.

It’s not. There’s a gazillion capitalized Nouns for Reasons, and tons of seemingly random fantasy descriptions, sure, but I just sort of fell into it. Piranesi’s voice is enjoyable because he’s just so good-hearted, so willing to find the good in the world of the House full of ocean. By the time it becomes clear that this is a book about academicians run amok (love those! Ever since Tartt’s The Secret History.) I was really hooked. I read this straight through.

What I really loved about it is the strange kindness of this book. The theme of being an appreciative part of the world around you. To say more would be moving into serious spoiler territory so I’m stopping here. But it was a delight to read. And it made me revisit Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s etchings of ruined cities again. Beautiful art, which inspired a beautiful book.

My second “excellent” read of the week is all about the execution of the idea. Kate Alice Marshall’s YA novel Rules for Vanishing, has a premise that seems appropriate to any teen scream movie–a lost girl on a ghost road that only appears on certain nights at certain times, and is only traversable if you follow the rules. And even then, there are snares. It’s told as a series of transcripts, journal entries, texts, etc. Again, I can’t talk too much about it without spoilers, but Marshall has just constructed a really well-made horror novel (with a hopeful ending! thank you!).

Lots of nightmarish horror imagery but nothing that really squicked me. The characters are archetypes but still engaging, and the horrific core of the ghost road was really satisfying here. I am looking forward to her next release Our Last Echoes.

As a side note, I am apparently really slow when it comes to certain types of visuals–the face/vase illusion gets me all the time. And it took someone pointing it out to me that the cover of Rules for Vanishing had that type of illusion. Either a road surrounded by trees, or a girl’s figure in the trees. Yeah. Good job cover artist! Sorry it took me so long to appreciate it!

Girl?/Road? Can't be both;brain does not compute
Girl?/Road? Can’t be both;brain does not compute

Both Piranesi and Rules for Vanishing came from my local library, but I’m going to buy copies to add to my already groaning shelves.