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Piranesi

Recap & Book Summary



The Quick Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for Piranesi by Susanna Clarke are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.

For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.

Quick(-ish) Recap

Part I introduces Piranesi, a man who lives in a grand, 3-tiered labyrinth, filled with statues. The lowest level floods continuously, and Piranesi has located the skeletal remains of 13 dead people in the labryinth. He diligently cares for these remains. Part II, Piranesi meets with the Other, the only other living person there. The Other believes that the labyrinth contains some a Great and Secret Knowledge. Piranesi helps him with this research, but he doesn't really believe in it. Piranesi survives by fishing, gathering seaweed and collecting fresh water from waterfalls. The Other, however, is able to procure things like blankets, shoes, etc. Piranesi also forgets things and loses track of time, but the Other does not. One day, the Other tells Piranesi that someone (who they nickname "16") may show up, but that "16" is their enemy.

In Part III, Piranesi comes across an old man, who he nicknames the Prophet, who says that this World is created from ideas from a different world. He also says that the Other's real name is "Val Ketterley" and that "16" is looking for Piranesi. (Later, the Other tells Piranesi should not speak to "16" or else he'll go mad.) Afterwards, Piranesi starts reading through the earliest entries in his journal, none of which he remembers writing, and looks up some of the names the Prophet had mentioned. He learns that a man named Laurence Arne-Sayles (who later turns out to be the Prophet) had a group of students, including Val Ketterley, who he'd discussed a "grand experiment" with involving a different world featuring architecture merged with oceans. Laurence was involved with suspicious disappearances and was eventually arrested for kidnapping a young man, James Ritter. Ritter later described bring kept in a grand, flooded house that was filled with statues for roughly two years.

In Part IV, Piranesi reads more about Laurence from his journal. Laurence believed that any ideas or powers that were lost in one world ended up in in a different world, and in the process they created "doorways" one could cross. "16" also starts leaving messages for him written in chalk or in stones. He sees that "16" is a woman and that the Other calls her "Raphael". Piranesi also finds scraps of paper where someone writes about how they are being held here as a prisoner. He later realizes are they were early entries he wrote that were torn from his journal. "16" writes a message asking if he is "Matthew Rose Sorenson", and his journal indicates he had been interested in writing a book about Laurence at one point.

In Part V, Piranesi finds a journal entry talking about how he, Matthew Rose Sorenson, had approached Ketterley with questions about Laurence for his book. Ketterley had offered to show him a ritual to cross through one of these "doorways", and used the opportunity to trap Sorenson/Piranesi there instead. In Part VI, Piranesi now realizes that the Other/Ketterley is his enemy. During a particularly had flooding of the House, "16" comes to save him and together they fend of Ketterley. Despite Piranesi's efforts to save him, Ketterley dies in the flood. Afterwards, "16" turns out to be a police officer named Sarah Raphael who has been searching for Sorenson since he's been missing for years.

In Part VII, Sarah convinces Piranesi to return to the normal world with her, even though he considers this House to be his home. He goes to live with Sorenson's family, though he no longer considers himself to be either "Piranesi" or "Matthew Rose Sorenson". Piranesi still goes back to visit the Labryinth, and he brings James Ritter and Raphael with him sometimes. The book ends with Piranesi reflecting upon the immeasurable beauty and infinite kindness of the House.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary & Analysis

Part 1: Piranesi

The book is written in journal form, with dated entries. It opens with someone (Piranesi) wandering the halls and vestibules of an expansive location. When the tides comes in, the person is flung around and submerged in water, in fear of death. But then it subsides.

The person is determined to explore this World as much as possible in their lifetime, and they have started recording the locations of points of interest. The location is an enormous House with three levels (Lower Halls – The Domain of the Tides, the Middle Halls – The Domain of Birds and Men, and the Upper Halls – The Domain of the Clouds.) The Lower and Upper Halls are largely inhabitable. Outside the house, there are only “celestial objects”: the sun, moon and stars.

From the onset, the setting is disorienting. The notation for the dates are unusual (“FIRST DAY OF THE FIFTH MONTH IN THE YEAR THE ALBATROSS CAME TO THE SOUTH-WESTERN HALLS”) and the location seems oddly expansive (“Nine-Hundred-and-Sixtieth Hall”). It also references multiple tides, which indicates the non-earthly origins of this setting (because the earth only has one tide).

All of this serves to cue the reader into the fact that the normal rules will not apply. This is some type of different world or an alternate reality that this character is exploring.

In the house, there is also one other person (“the Other“) there. There used to be at least fifteen others. Now, only two are left, as far as the narrator knows.

The main character, male and between 30-35 years of age, is referred to by the Other as “Piranesi”, though he believes this is not his real name. The Other is 50-60 years old, and he believes that there is some type of Great or Secret Knowledge to be found in the halls. Both Piranesi and the Other are scientists and searching for that knowledge. They meet on Tuesdays and Fridays to discuss their findings.

The other people who once lived here:

#3: The Biscuit-Box Man, a skeleton whose bones have been organized by size with the small bones stored in a biscuit box.
#4: The Concealed Person, a skeleton wedged into a narrow space between a Plinth and the Wall
#5 – 14: The People of the Alcove, skeletons found laying side by side on a Plinth. Three Female, Three Male, One Unknown. One of the male remains, nicknamed the “Fish-Leather Man“, has been there longer than the rest and the bones were all threaded together. There are also the remains of what is believed to be a monkey near them.
#15: The Folded-Up Child, a skeleton of a female of approximately 7 years of age, sitting with her knees up and head down. Piranesi wonders if this child was meant to grow up to be his wife, but then something went wrong.
#16: You

Piranesi hopes that his notes will be useful to whoever comes after him.

Piranesi has identified the people who used to be there based on remains found in the house. He seems to have a great deal of reverence and respect for the dead. This is seen in how he cares for the Biscuit-Box Man’s remains (by replacing the seaweed) and his unwillingness to disturb the Concealed Person from its spot, since he knows he won’t be able to get them back in there afterwards.

Piranesi also keeps a careful record of the tides. The first two entries are kept according to standard dates (“December 2011 to June 2012”), but then the following entries after that are all descriptive based on what was happening in the halls (“Thirtieth Day in the Twelfth Month in the Year of Weeping and Wailing, to the Fourth Day of the Seventh Month in the Year I discovered the Coral Halls”).

He fixes the dates so they are all descriptive, commenting that those original dates were from 2,000 years ago, and that the numbers are a silly way of keeping track.

In his record of the tides, the first two entries are kept according to standard dates and the rest in descriptive dates, but he decides that descriptive dates are superior since it “gives each year a character of its own”. It shows how Piranesi likely started off living a more normal life. As he’s been here, his reality has become increasing rooted in this strange world and he’s been here so long that he no longer remembers why the numbering system was a good idea. It also indicates that the numbers of the years no longer seems important to Piranesi, and instead he roots his memories in what was happening.

Piranesi also tells us that the “2011” and “2012” entries are from 2,000 years ago. This is the first hint that something is a bit off and that Piranesi is not necessarily the most reliable narrator. Has he really been living here for 2,000 years? As will become clearer later, he has misunderstood his notation system and thinks that those dates are numbers indicating how long ago it was (2,011 years and 2,012 years).

Piranesi describes the statues that he loves, his favorite being the Statue of a Faun. He wonders if having preference for one statue over another is “disrespectful” to the house because it “blesses equally everything that it has created”. He also notes that he saw something that resembled a leaf once and wonders if trees exist here. He notes that the leaf-like object had a surface that repelled water, indicating that it was meant to exist in the air.

Piranesi regards the house and everything in it with a sort of religiosity. He sees the house as a sentient, powerful being and feels the need to show respect and piety towards it. Piranesi views the world much like any other type of early inhabitant or explorer, developing a type of religion to explain the things he doesn’t understand.

The presence of the leaf initially implies that perhaps there is more out there beyond this seemingly endless house and its celestial surroundings. (But later we’ll see that is not quite what’s happening here.)

Part 2: The Other

Piranesi meets with the Other. He claims to be able to remember everything about this place, such as directions to any hall that he has previously visited. When the tide comes in below them, he reassures the Other that they are safe.

Piranesi has a deferential relationship with the Other. At the same time, Piranesi knows more about some aspects of this World than the Other (he’s more familiar with the patterns of the tides, for example).

The Other also gives Piranesi a memory test. When Piranesi doesn’t know what he’s talking about, Piranesi assumes it’s a trick question. The Other’s reaction is unclear. But as we’ll see later, it’s the first hint that something is amiss.

In his journal, Piranesi explains the arrival of two albatrosses last Winter. The Winters there are difficult and cold. He has to stock up on seaweed beforehand as fuel to burn. He had wanted to try drying seaweed in the Winter, but needed to experiment with ways of fastening them securely. As he was doing so, a large albatross showed up and was soon accompanied by another, presumably its mate. The albatrosses were unable to build nests with the wet seaweed they found, so Piranesi gives up three days’ worth of his dried seaweed so that they can build nests. The albatrosses soon laid an egg, which is now a chick.

Most of the Halls contain Falls of Fresh Water, so water is generally not a problem. For food, there is fish and good places to fish, but it took time for Piranesi to figure out where these places are. One time when Piranesi was very hungry, he went exploring through a hall where it was difficult to see because it was full of clouds (he notes exploring an unknown hall with limited visibility is not something he would consider now, nor would he let himself get so hungry), looking for fish. As he walked (trying not to accidentally run into a statue which can be painful), he stepped forward to find that there was no floor beneath him. He ended up free-falling, only surviving due to landing in the hands of a large statue.

There are also many birds there. One time, he saw them resting on two statues that he thought represented Industriousness. Piranesi takes it as a message, even though he considers himself to already be industrious, and catches extra food that day. That night, there is an unexpected storm and no fish for two days. After that, Piranesi thinks about the wisdom to be found in the flock of birds.

With that in mind, when he later sees two flock of birds land on three statues each, he takes it to be an elaborate message from the birds. Based on what the statutes depict (angel and trumpet, ship, book, clouds, child and mice) and the order they land on those statues, Piranesi deduces that the message is something about “A message from afar. Obscure Writing. Innocence eroded.” He decides he will revisit this later to determine the full meaning of the communication from the bird.

In this section, we learn more about how Piranesi survives in this place and more about the potential dangers. It also shows how he is has become superstitious, finding meaning in birds resting on statues. He is constructing a system of beliefs.

The Other announces that he plans to perform a Ritual, something that they’ve done four previous times, modifying it each time. The Other is convinced that the Ritual will help to “free the Great and Secret Knowledge” from this World. This time around, the Other is adding an invocation of a long dead knowledgeable king, Addy Domarus.

After he performs the ritual, the Other looks displeased. He thinks that these words need to be directed toward some type of specific, powerful, living entity. The Other feels that there is nothing powerful in the house. Piranesi privately disagrees, but instead suggests that the Other direct his Ritual to the Stars.

Piranesi also mentions a Hall which is slightly different from the others, with no windows where the air feels different. The Other thinks it might be a good temple, but it is much farther than the Other has ever bothered to travel. The Other wants Piranesi to go there so he can confirm the directions there and identify which stars are visible from that Hall. However, it involves traveling through an area with debris and Piranesi has no shoes. The Other chides him, offers to get shoes for him the next day and then demands that Piranesi make the (3.5 hour) trip.

In this section, we start to see the differing viewpoints of Piranesi vs. the Other. The Other is working on creating a Ritual of some sort. When the Ritual seems to have no impact, he tweaks it and tries again. The Ritual is clearly the Other’s pet project. Piranesi merely goes along with it to be a good sport, and he admits he has no clue what he’s doing.

When the Other brings up “those bones you found” to Piranesi, his dismissive about them, which contrasts with Piransi’s very deep interest and near reverence he has for the people they once were and the lives they lived. Even though the Other and Piranesi are working together, their areas of interest aren’t necessarily aligned.

Piranesi seems comparatively more concerned with developing an anthropological understanding of what came before them. He also has more of an interest in truly understanding the House, its tides, and the Halls within it. The Other mostly stays in the First Vestibule and has not traveled further than 4 or 5 halls away. Piranesi also regards the House respectfully and refers to “its blessings” when it comes to everything in it. In contrast, the Other describes it as “Just endless dreary rooms all the same, full of decaying figures covered with bird shit”. The Other also describes it as a labyrinth, as opposed to a house.

The next day, the Other equips Piranesi with a new pair of shoes, made of canvas with thick rubber soles and laces. Piranesi thinks about the many things (blankets, multivitamins, sleeping bag, pillow, bowls, socks, fishing pole, batteries, notebooks etc.) that the Other has given him over time. Piranesi does not know why the Other receives these objects, but he doesn’t. The Other also doesn’t fish or collect seaweed, the House just provides for him somehow.

Here we get the first hints that there is clearly something that the Other is keeping from Piranesi. He somehow has access to things that Piranesi doesn’t. Piranesi is apparently too guileless to imagine it’s anything other than the House simply providing it to the Other. As the readers, however, the Other’s being rude and demanding towards Piranesi, in addition to keeping some type of secret from him, hints at something foreboding that’s to come later.

As requested, Piranesi journeys to the The One-Hundred-and-Ninety-Second Western Hall that he had told the Other about. He reluctantly decides to spend the night in order to determine what stars are visible from there. It’s cold and dark.

On the way back, Piranesi realizes that he has lost interest in searching for the Great and Secret Knowledge. He doesn’t know if it exists or not, but he knows he doesn’t want to waste time trying to figure it out. The Other treats the house like a riddle to be solved and then discarded, but Piranesi thinks the House has value just as it is. Piranesi is also skeptical of the idea that this Knowledge will grant them powers, since he doesn’t know if he would want something like the power to “control lesser minds”.

Piranesi also finds torn up pieces of paper from a notebook littering the floor, with handwriting that is neither his nor the Other’s. They mention something about a Minotaur. He finds 47 pieces of paper and tries to reassemble them, only to realize there must be many more missing. He notices some that have been used by the gulls to construct their nests, so he plans to return in early autumn when the nests have been abandoned by the birds.

Piranesi gets the idea to try to convince the Other to give up the search for the secret Knowledge when he looks at the Hall in the moonlight. The Hall is filled with statues of people, and the beauty of them bathed in moonlight makes him think about the value of the House in and of itself. Piranesi’s guilelessness is also seen in his lack of interest in accumulating power, such as being able to have power over others.

When he gets back, he reports to the Other which is the brightest star visible from The One-Hundred-and-Ninety-Second Western Hall. When Piranesi tells the Other of his plan to abandon to search for the secret Knowledge, the Other sits him down to explain what this is a bad idea. He says that it’s for the sake of humanity, that they’d no longer be colleagues if Piranesi gives up the search, and that the labyrinth is tricks with his mind.

According to the Other, while Piranesi has a great recollection about all the Halls and their locations, there’s some things he forgets, and he loses track of time. The Other “takes precautions” in order to keep track of time, but declines to specify further.

Piranesi is confused by the Other’s claim that he forgets certain information. He decides to read through his journal to see if there’s any mentions of things that he does not recognize. However, it will be a time-consuming endeavor, so he plans to do it later. He also plans to continue helping the Other with the search, even though he no longer believes in it.

When Piranesi tells the Other about his plan to abandon the search for the secret Knowledge, the Other comments “not this again” and says that the labyrinth is playing tricks with his mind. It introduces the possibility that Piranesi is being manipulated by the House. So, either the Other is lying to him, or the Other genuinely knows something that Piranesi doesn’t.

The Other asks Piranesi if he’s seen anyone else in the labyrinth. When Piranesi says no, the Other says he must promise to hide if he does. He explains that the one Piranesi calls “16” is his enemy and therefore Piranesi’s enemy as well. He says that 16 wishes to destroy reason. When Piranesi asks about where the Other met 16, the Other is cagey and obfuscates. Piranesi takes this to mean that 16 must live in some Far Off place in the House.

Also, as we can see in this section, Piranesi is turning out to be a rather unreliable narrator, due to his gaps of knowledge and perhaps memory, too. Despite his careful listing out of all the people in the House, it seems the Other knows about the presence of another that he does not. Piranesi calls the unknown person 16 because it’s a continuance of his numbering of people that he is aware of (there were 15 before, so the next one is 16) that have been in the labyrinth.

Piranesi wants to know where the Other and 16 met, since the Other never ventures far from the first Vestibule. The Other’s cagey response indicates perhaps that there’s somewhere he goes that Piranesi does not have access to, though Piranesi never considers that possibility and assumes that 16 must live in the House.

A bit of a puzzle is starting to take form at this point. There’s a lot of questions about what information can be trusted and we do know that Piranesi’s own memory may be manipulated by the house. 16 is being presented as being “against reason” but we already know to be wary of the information we’re given in this story.

Piranesi goes to visit the First Vestible. He no longer remembers why he named it as such, and he wonders if the Other is right about him forgetting things. When he goes in, he recognizes the smell of rain, metal and petrol. He also notes that he’s made this observation before, but tends to forget it every time. Suddenly, he sees lights, hears footsteps and there’s the sound of someone talking. Then it’s all gone. There’s some trash from “old fish finger packets and sausage-roll wrappings” left behind.

There’s also a note signed “Lawrence“, asking to be directed to the location of a specific statue. On the blank space below that, Piranesi helpfully writes out the directions. Piranesi writes that he hopes that they will meet, but if “Lawrence” is a spirit, then he promises to take good care of his remains.

The story strongly indicates that Piranesi is being forced to forget things relating to the presence of some type of outsider(s). He forgets things that make this area unique, and there’s the persistent presence of foreign objects around here (mostly trash from leftover food).

Part 3: The Prophet

Contrary to the Other’s instructions, Piranesi approaches a stranger when he spots him. He is an old man. He explains that this world is a “Distributary World“, one created by the ideas from a different world. It’s existence is likely dependent on the existence of the original world. Piranesi theorizes that the statues are representations of ideas flowing from the original world. He claims that he was the one who theorized all of this, but it landed him in prison in the end. The old man mentions a few of the people (“that dishy young Italian”, Stan Ovenden, Sylvia D’Agostino, James Ritter) who came here before, who probably correspond to some of the remains Piranesi has identified.

He says that the Other’s name is Val Ketterley, and he describes Val as a “charlatan” who has never had an original thought in his life. The old man says that Val was the one who brought Piranesi here, and that the secret Knowledge does not exist. The “16” that Ketterley warned Piransei about is not the old man, instead “16” is someone who is searching for Piranesi. The old man plans to gives “16” direction here, but he says that it’s often difficult to get here and involves “slipping in between” which is harder for some than for others. (He notes that Ketterley uses various rituals to assist him.) He says that Ketterley may get violent if he sense “16” is getting closer, and Piranesi may have to kill Ketterley.

The old man also mentions that one of the consequences of staying in this world for too long is amnesia and mental collapse. The old man is only here temporarily. The old man says that Piranesi once asked to speak to him a long time ago, but he said no. However, Piranesi was an “arrogant little shit” then, but not anymore. He also mentions having a capuchin monkey there “in the early eighties”.

In his journal, Piranesi describes the old man as the “Prophet“, since he knows about the Creation of the World and other things.

This section is kind of a big information dump, but there’s a couple things worth noting:

The old man implies that the creation of this world was immoral in some way (“I’ve never been very interested in what you might call morality”) and could could have possibly led to the collapse of civilization (“but I drew the line at bringing about the collapse of civilisation”). He admits that he was guilty of the things that landed him in prison.

This section seems to confirm the Other’s statement that Piranesi is definitely forgetting things. It also interesting that the experience has humbled Piranesi so he is no longer an “arrogant little shit”. We also now know how the Other/Ketterley is managing to keep track of time and get in and out. But it also means that by withholding this information from Piranesi, taking advantage of the amnesia, he is essentially holding Piranesi captive here.

Soon, the Other tells Piranesi more about “16”. The Other says that there’s a good chance he’ll be coming here, and the Other admits that “16” will be looking for Piranesi. The Other gives Piranesi an even more dire warning about not speaking to “16”, saying that it may cause his sense of reality to unravel. He says that Piranesi is vulnerable because he is mentally unstable. The Other admits that if Piranesi really starts to go mad, that he may need to kill Piranesi.

Piranesi initially chimes in to say the he knows “16” is looking for him (because the Prophet told him), but changes his mind about telling the Other the truth and lies about meeting the old man. He says, instead, that the House revealed it to him.

The Other says that “16” may encourage Piranesi to attack him, which is exactly what the old man had encouraged Piranesi to do. It opens up the possibility that maybe the old man really is “16”. Piranesi’s decision to lie is of interest as well. Despite his general guilelessness, Piranesi has enough of a survival instinct to lie about seeing the old man, knowing that the Other is willing to kill him.

Piranesi is indexing his journal, making an index entry for “Stan Ovenden” (who the Prophet had mentioned), when he sees that Stan already has an entry (“Ovenden, Stanley, student of Laurence Arne-Sayles”). The same entry references “See also The disappearance of Maurizio Giussani”. Piranesi is stunned to realize that he is, in fact, forgetting things.

It also references “Journal 21”, but he is only on “Journal 10”. As he browses through the index, he sees more references to non-existent journals. He also suspects that some entries refer to Journals that exist (1-9) but that they actually refer to a different set of journals.

After inspecting his journals, Piranesi sees that his Journals 1, 2 and 3 were originally numbers 21, 22, and 23. Someone had scratched out the covers. In Journal 1 (originally #21), he finds the entry on Stan Ovenden.

The entry describes a man, Laurence Arne-Sayles, bringing together a group of his students in a farmhouse in 1987: Stanley Ovenden, Bannerman, Tali Hughes, Val Ketterley and D’Agostino. They are discussing a “great experiment”, but some of them have been voicing criticisms of it, which Arne-Sayles react poorly to.

Ovenden continues to criticize the experiment, however, and Hughes defends Ovenden. Soon, Ovenden and Hughes befriend a philosophy student, Maurizio Giussani, which alarms Arne-Sayles. They invite Giussani and his fiance, Elena Marietti, over for dinner. Arne-Sayles talks about his concept of a different world where architecture and oceans are merged. That night, Marietti leaves earlier, and Giussani stay behind. Guissani is never seen again after that. Ten years later, Arne-Sayles is convicted of kidnapping another young man.

Piranesi stops reading, overwhelmed by the words he does not understand and the new information. He is certain he is either forgetting things or have been crazy in the past or both. Upset, he hugs the Statue of the Faun for comfort. Piransei is inclined to think that he was mad when he wrote these things, but he has vague memories of things and places mentioned like “Birmingham” and “University”. He also knows that Ovenden and Laurence are real people because he’s seen evidence of it before.

This section sheds more light on the the House’s history. It also seems like the Prophet/old man is Laurence. We know the Prophet ended up in prison, and in the entry we find out that he was convicted of kidnapping.

A week later (to give himself a mental break), Piranesi looks up the entries for Sylvia and James Ritter.

According to his journal, Sylvia was a mathematics student who switched to studying anthropology. She was Laurence’s most devoted student. In 1984, she graduates and starts serving him, unpaid, as an assistant and driver. She also cut off ties with her family as a test of loyalty to him. In 1990, she disappears and is never seen again. Around that time, she had befriended a doctor, Robert Allstead, at the hospital where she was working as a receptionist. Laurence was jealous of the friendship and demanded that she leave the job. She refused and soon went missing.

Sylvia was also a filmmaker. She has two surviving films. One, “Moon/Wood“, and is about a cruel hierophant (priest) in ancient times in a small community. He punishes a woman who opposes him, by casting a spell that renders her helpless while he beats her. She calls out to the trees for help, and they attack him until he dies. The other, “The Castle,” shows a vast palace with enormous rooms, lined with statues. There are puddles water on the floor, and it is said that this is a recording of one of Arne-Sayles’s other worlds, described in his book entitled “Laybrinth“.

The entry about “poor James Ritter” pertain’s to the ending of Laurence’s career. In April 1997, a cleaning woman noticed a gross liquid seeping out of a wall that turned out to have a very ill man, James Ritter, hidden behind it. He was sent to prison, released in 2002. No explanation was given for the imprisonment of Ritter.

Born in 1967, James Ritter had been an attractive young man, who suffered from mental illness. After bring rescued, he was incoherent. Eventually he told police about being in a house with a flooded basement, filled with statues and a Minotaur. Ritter describes staying at the house for 18 months (between 1995 and 1997), where he slept in the white cave. Piranesi recognizes this as being from the first Vestibule. He thinks maybe Ritter was the one leaving trash around.

Laurence, in addition to being dangerous, is demanding and cruel. Sylvia’s two films seem to indicate that she had managed to get to Piranesi’s world and film some if it. The Moon/Wood video shows she later became disillusioned by Laurence. She likely saw herself as helpless, caught up in his spell, and she hoped that something will come save her from him.

Piranesi’s diary entries seem to indicate that he does not know yet about the House when these are written. (He wonders if Ritter was brainwashed into believing in its existence.) The description of a Minotaur comes up again, like the one Piranesi had seen references in the scraps of paper. Ritter says that he has to go to the Minotaur for food, which seems like it is likely referencing a person as opposed to a literal Minotaur.

Part 4: 16

Piranesi finally undertakes the journey to gather the rest of the scraps of paper from the gull’s nests. Afterwards, he is able to reassemble parts of it.

It someone writing about how terrible it is in the house. They say that there is nothing to eat, so they have to rely on “him” to bring food and water, which he leaves in the room with Minotaur statues. He laments his status as a prisoner and a slave. He fantasizes about killing “him”. (Piranesi thinks about how this person seems very unhappy and how he could have helped this person.) The person also knows that they are forgetting things, and they are determined to kill “him” before that happens.

Piranesi debates internally whether to tell the Other about any of this.

This seems to be Ritter’s writings while being held captive. We can probably assume Piranesi’s experiences were similar when he first arrived, before he’d figured out how to survive. It also seems seems to clarify that him the Minotaur is not really a Minotaur, but that Ritter had to go to the Minotaur statues because that was where food was left for him.

One day, Piranesi smells hints of “a spicy scent of coriander, rose and sandalwood”, which he recognizes as a perfume that someone must he wearing. He knows that 16 has arrived. Soon, the Other suggests that they will need to kill 16. The Other also tells Piranesi to be on the lookout for an old man (the Prophet), and he says that it’s probably time that someone killed him as well. Still, Piranesi does not mention having seen him.

Soon, Piranesi notices yellow chalk marks that 16 has made, writing down directions. Piranesi writes a message back, saying that he knows this person is looking for him and that he plans to avoid them since he’s been warned by the Other. He soon asks the Other whether it’s safe to read 16’s messages, and the Other says it’s better not to in case it drives Piranesi mad. The Other has also acquired a gun in order to kill 16.

A few days later, Piranesi catches a glimpse of 16 and sees that she is a woman. The Other is shouting at “Raphael” and telling “Raphael” that she “should never have come here”. 16 leaves a message for Piranesi identifying herself, talking about Laurence and Val. Before Piranesi can read it, he decides to get rid of it. He does, however, write back to warn 16 that Ketterley has a gun. The remnants of 16’s message says something about “having groomed other victims” and having “been here for almost six years” and it mentions a way out.

16/Raphael is a woman who seems to want to save Piranesi, which is likely why the Other doesn’t want him to speak to her. Her message indicates that there have been other victims (such as Ritter, probably) who have been imprisoned down here.

Piranesi looks up the entries for Laurence in his journal. Piranesi appears to have considered writing a book about Laurence Arnes-Sayles, in the context of him being a “transgressive thinker” in his field. (Ominously, he notes that people connected to him have disappeared and admits to the possibility that pursuing this could result in him disappearing as well.) There is already a book by Angharad Scott about him, but it’s more biographical in nature.

He also has notes about Laurence’s views that the Ancients had a different way of communicating with the world, which is an ability that has been lost. Unlike his peers, Laurence felt they could really talk to the world, not just in their heads but literally. Laurence thought that it might be able reclaim these powers through ritual magic. In 1976, Laurence developed an interest in the remains of a Ancient seer kept in a museum, for use in a ritual to transfer the Seer’s knowledge to himself.

After his requests to borrow the remains were rejected, there was a break-in at the museum involving the exhibit. Laurence’s next book mentioned a seer called “Addedomarus who had been able to walk a path between worlds”. Later, a man named Tony Myers admitted to the break-in and stated that Laurence, Ketterley and someone named Robin Bannerman had performed a ritual with the remains.

Eventually, Laurence develops his Theory of Other Worlds. He theorizes that any knowledge or power that disappears from this world must end up in another world and that a “doorway” to that other world is created in the process. In his 1979 book, “The Half-Seen Door“, Laurence claims to have entered one of these doors. He says that entering it the first time is the hardest, and it requires returning to a place where you last believed the world was fluid (for him, it was a garden from his childhood).

Piranesi makes the connection that Laurence is likely the Prophet that he met. He also remembers the Other invoking the name “Addedomaru” during one of his rituals.

This section mostly charts the development of Laurence’s theories. This new information confirms a lot of the stuff Laurence previous told Piranesi. It explains why Laurence says that the Other’s ideas are actually his own ideas. Also, while the comment about him potentially “disappearing” (due to pursuing his interest in Arnes-Sayles) is written flippantly in the journal, it seems fairly clear that that’s what ended up happening, unfortunately.

Piranesi notices that an alarming occurrence, the Conjunction of Four Tides, is coming up soon. The presence of all the tides rising at once is highly dangerous since many of the Halls will be flooded. Piranesi warns the Other, who is unconcerned, since he will not be there that day. Piranesi also wants to warn 16, so he writes her a message about it. And despite the Other’s warnings, Piranesi knows a part of him will “miss her” if she doesn’t come back.

He also notices a message, written with stones that says “ARE YOU MATTHEW ROSE SORENSEN?” The name dredges up a memory that disorients him. Piranesi (who knows that Piranesi is not his real name), recalls that the Other gave him his nickname (“Piranesi) since it is is associated with labyrinths.

In his journal, Sorensen is described as a man who is writing a book about Laurence Arnes-Sayles. (There are other entries about Sorensen, but Piranesi finds them useless because he cannot understand them.) Piranesi seems to realize that it is possible that Sorensen is a “forgotten part of Myself”.

The entry about Laurence showed an interest in writing about Arnes-Sayles, but this entry seems to indicate that he went ahead and decided to pursue it, assuming that Piranesi really is Matthew Rose Sorensen.

Regarding his nickname, Giovanni Piranesi was an Italian artist who was known for depicting fictitious and atmospheric images of “prisons”.

It’s also worth noting that one of the entries that Piranesi dismisses as being “useless” references an article called “The Importance of Labyrinths in Laurence Arne-Sayles’s Exploitation of his Adherents”. It hints that the Labyrinth structure is necessary for some reason, though we don’t know why (yet).

Next, Piranesi looks up the entries about the Other, Val Ketterley. It describes him as Laurence’s student who later repudiated Laurence’s teachings. It also includes a note to himself to see if Ketterley is willing to be interviewed (for the book about Laurence). Unfortunately, many of the pages in his journal that were about Ketterley have been ripped out.

It strike Piranesi to check the scraps of paper he’d found, and realizes that at least one of them must be from his journals. He pieces enough of them back together to form a full entry entitled “The events of 15 November 2012“.

Here, we get the hint that Piranesi/Sorenson may have ended up in Ketterley’s clutches when he approached him about being interviewed for the book about Laurence. Piranesi wonders who could have torn the pages out of his journal, but we know from the scraps he already pieced together that he had written about hating and wanting to kill Ketterley. So it seems likely that Ketterley did it or induced him to do it.

Part 5: Valentine Ketterley

In “The events of 15 November 2012”, Piranesi describes visiting Ketterley in mid-November 2012. Piranesi identifies himself as Matthew Rose Sorenson, and they discuss Laurence Arne-Sayles. Ketterley describes Laurence as being perverse, shameless and cruel. Ketterley also admits that he thinks that he thought he’d seen the other World once. He offers to show Sorenson by performing a ritual. Sorenson agrees, and it occurs to him as Ketterley begins this ritual that it is clearly something Ketterley has done not once, but many times before.

Suddenly, Piranesi finds himself in the House, and Ketterley laughs and laughs, saying that he’s delighted, because “a young, healthy man is just what I wanted”.

Throughout the conversation with Piranesi, there are foreboding hints throughout it of what’s to come. Ketterley comments on Sorenson’s diligence record-keeping (which is something the Other finds very useful). And when they start to talk about the doorways to the other World, Ketterley asks if anyone else knows he’s here. When Piranesi says no, that’s when he offers to do a ritual to show him. He tells Piranesi to bring his journals. Of course, this all ends with Piranesi being trapped down there.

Part 6: Wave

It finally (finally!) dawns of Piranesi that the Other is not his friend, but his enemy. He, Matthew Rose Sorenson, was brought here as a slave. He figures out, too, that the Other is able to remember what he cannot because, like the Prophet/Laurence, Ketterley goes back to the other side instead of staying in the House. Piranesi plans to write himself a message out of stones as a reminder to help him remember, and he falls asleep to thoughts of revenge against Ketterley.

Piranesi also realizes that 16 is likely someone trying to help him. He goes back to where 16 had left her message (“ARE YOU MATTHEW ROSE SORENSEN?”) and sees that the stones are scattered and his warning about the floods has been erased. Piranesi guesses that Ketterley has destroyed these messages.

Piranesi replaces the warning and starts making other preparations for the flood, such as securing the remains of the dead and what not. As he does, he finds a grey bag with a gun, an inflatable boat and paddles in it. He deduces that this must belong to Ketterley. He considers taking the gun, but ends up putting it back in the bag.

On the day of the flood, Piranesi is anxious. The Other is here and says he had a change of plans. As he inflates the boat, he instructs Piranesi to strike Raphael if he sees her. However, Piranesi lets him know that he has figured out the truth of the situation. When Ketterley reaches for the gun, Piranesi kicks it away. Raphael shows up, looking for Piranesi, and Piranesi warns her that the Other has a gun.

Ketterley grabs Piranesi, but after a brief struggle, Piranesi and Raphael end up running together out of the Hall. He leads her onto a tall statue, since the waters are approaching. Ketterley shoots at them both, but soon the waters arrive. Unable to get to the boat, Ketterly is flung around by the waves, into the statues and dies.

When the waters finally begin to recede, 16 introduces herself as Sarah Raphael. She is a police officer. When she offers to take him home, he says that this is his home. Raphael gently tells him that he has parents and two sisters and friends. However, Piranesi says that he is no longer Matthew Sorenson, since he lacks all his memories. She asks him to go back with him for the sake of Matthew’s family, but Piranesi says he needs to take care of the remains here. Still, he agrees to consider it and she says she will return tomorrow. Piranesi takes care of Ketterley’s body, despite everything.

The next day, Raphael explains that he had once contacted Angharad Scott about his book on Laurence. When Scott later checked in on his progress, she learned Sorenson was missing. Knowing about the other victims, Scott told the police about Sorenson’s connection with Laurence.

After giving Raphael a tour of the Halls, Piranesi finally decides to go back with her. They exit via a shadow shaped like a doorway, located near the statues of two Minotaurs.

Part 7: Matthew Rose Sorensen

The news hits on November 18, 2018 that Valentine Ketterley has disappeared. A young officer, Jamie Askill, thinks that it is linked to the reappearance of Matthew Sorenson, and that Sorenson was being held captive. He goes to question Piranesi. Piranesi offers truthful, but misleading answers which imply that Jamie’s theory is incorrect.

Piranesi goes back to live with his family. He considers himself to be neither “Piranesi” or “Michael Rose Sorenson”. Instead, he is simply himself and those other two people are parts of him. Now that he knows how to get in and out, Piranesi goes back to visit the House frequently. He also he goes to find James Ritter, and together they go back to the labyrinth to visit. He goes to visit it with Raphael as well, someone he now cares for deeply considering how brave it was for her to try to rescue him.

A part of him still considers the House to be his home. As he wanders around the city, he sees people he recognizes from the statues in the House. The book ends with a thought he re-iterates from earlier on in the book, saying “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

Piranesi notices that the House depicts people differently than what they are from real life. It may be that, because everything is the House is derived from ideas in the real world, that the statue version of that person is how someone sees that person. So, when Piranesi sees a random man who is depicted as a king in a statue in the House, it may be because someone out there sees that man that way.

Piranesi and James were both tricked into being captives of the House, but they both had a fondness for it as well. The book ends with a positive note about House. Despite the circumstances that brought him there, there is a beauty about the House, free from the vices of people and ultimate the House made Piranesi a kinder and more humble person.

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