First of all, this book is amazing.
This book is also one of five books that I’ve chosen for a specific project I’m doing for this brand.
But all that aside, let’s get Write On In to the review.
What… an incredible… book.
Honestly, I really do feel the hype around this book and I totally agree that it’s well worth the read.
This book is also actually a prime example as to why I try and give every book at least 50 pages before I decide whether or not I want to continue, because I wasn’t totally feeling it right away.
In my chapter by chapter notes, I think I wrote down on page 36 that I was feeling iffy. By page 52, I sang a completely different tune.
A couple of hopefully spoiler-free things I want to note before we get started. These are the two things I did not know going into the text, and two things I wish I had. It might have made it easier to get into it from the beginning instead of waiting for those 50 pages.
If these are spoilers, I’m so sorry, please forgive me, I’m just going to say them anyway.
1. I did not know this book was written as a journal.
2. I did not know this book was so philosophical.
Neither of those points are bad, but both of those required an adjustment for me and were part of the reason I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the book or not by the end — at first.
The journal aspect itself is obviously pretty quick to adjust to. I had thought this was going to be some sort of whimsical, fantastical type adventure when I was reading the plot about the labyrinths and the statues and the halls that go on for miles and miles or what have you.
I was thinking of either the movie Labyrinth or at least Pan’s Labyrinth or something. It ended up being a little bit closer to The Tao of Pooh, which, for those of you who don’t know, is essentially a book utilizing the characters of Winnie the Pooh to depict and describe Taoist philosophy.
Far cry away from a book about running through labyrinths and away from scary monsters.
I knew based on the brief glimpses of reviews I had seen — I was trying to avoid any knowledge about this as much as possible, which might have helped me know what I was really getting into — that this was a good depiction of the quarantine type isolation. I just didn’t understand what that meant.
Another thing I’d like to mention for those of you who do not know, as I did not before I read this book, is that Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an artist in the 1700s most known for his work depicting Roman-type fictitious “prisons.”
There’s no direct mention of this in the book, but it essentially feels like a character trapped in one of those paintings. In the best way possible.
Part of what makes this book so interesting, and I really think this was a random stroke of luck for Susanna Clarke, is that feeling of the depiction of isolation in this book.
The thing is, it’s been a long time since she’s published something. Her most notable work, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, came out in 2004. I’ve heard of it, never read it, but now I want to. She published another book sometime after that, but it’s been a huge stretch of time since her last publication. After reading this, I feel like I understand why.
Some major thought went into this book.
Even though it isn’t super long, I wouldn’t be surprised if she spent years just figuring out the structure.
I’m sure everything about this book was already done and basically ready for publication by the time the pandemic hit. Although I still think this book would do great without that, I also think everyone’s fresh sense of that isolation is what really makes people look at this book like, “Whoa.”
It’s the hardest book to review without actually giving spoilers. I’m definitely going to word vomit in the spoilers section.
But what I can say about this book is:
It’s an incredible look into the human mind. What it means to exist, to have memories, the very idea of trust and identity, and, yes, isolation. Loneliness. But through all of that… desire, and longing, and hope, and searching for something that is different than the present and greater than the past.
It really is a trip, but it’s also not necessarily an “easy” read.
This is not one to just speed through because it’s short.
I read it in a day, yes, but — a day. Not a few hours.
You really have to turn your brain on for this book. I sincerely think it’s worth it if you go into it with a mindset of trying to find a sense of self-reflection through the main character.
There’s a few things in here I think are up to the reader to fill in the blanks on. I think it’s purposeful, and it allows the reader to create the world on their own in a really unique way. That’s, again, just hard to explain without giving it all away.
But the prose in here is very poetic and reminiscent of Hemingway and C.S. Lewis, whom she quotes at the beginning.
I was also really excited about that because the quote was from The Magician’s Nephew. As a Narnia fan, it felt nice to see a reference to something that wasn’t The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
It’s all beautifully written and very engaging, but it certainly requires some active attention. You can blink and miss so much. There’s so much finite detail, and the depictions of the statues and everything, I’m at a loss. It really is so incredible.
I cannot say enough good things about this book.
I may have to read it again.
I’m just afraid if I do that I’m going to have to review it again.
I’m about to start the spoilers. If this is your time to bounce before the tea spills, make sure you leave a comment about what you think of this book, or if you’re excited to add it to your list, or any preconceived perceptions you have or anything.