Published by Bloomsbury, the book was released this September. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from Susanna Clarke’s new book ‘Piranesi’:
I retrieve the scraps of paper from the Eighty-Eighth Western Hall
ENTRY FOR THE FIRST DAY OF THE NINTH MONTH IN THE YEAR THE ALBATROSS CAME TO THE SOUTH-WESTERN HALLS
I had not forgotten the scraps of paper that I found in the Eighty-Eighth Western Hall, nor the ones that remained there, woven into herring gull nests. Two days ago I gathered together supplies for the journey: food, blankets, a small saucepan in which to heat water and some rags. I set off and reached the Eighty-Eighth Western Hall about the middle of the afternoon. The gulls must have been out searching for food because there were none in the Hall, though fresh deposits of excrement on the Statues showed that it was still their roosting place.
Immediately I began work extricating the scraps of paper from the nests. The ease with which this could be accomplished varied. In some nests the seaweed was dry and fell apart at the first tug, but in others the paper scraps were cemented to the seaweed by the gulls’ droppings. I made a fire using dry seaweed from the old nests; I heated water in the saucepan; then I dipped a rag into the water and applied it gently to the paper that was stuck in the nests. It was delicate work: too little hot water and the hard droppings would not soften; too much and the paper itself would dissolve. It took me many hours of labour, but by the evening of the second day I had recovered seventy-nine scraps from thirty-five nests. I examined every nest again and satisfied Myself that no more remained.
This morning I returned to my own Halls. I spent some time trying to assemble the writing. Eventually, after an hour, I had part of a page – perhaps as much as half – and a few smaller sections of other pages. The writing was very bad, full of crossings out. I read:
… that he has done to me. How could I have been so stupid? I will die here. There is no one coming to save me. I will die here. The silence (piece missing) no sound, only the pounding of the sea in the rooms below. There is nothing to eat. I rely on him to bring me food and water – which only underlines my status as a prisoner, a slave. He leaves the food in the room with the minotaur statues. I indulge myself in long fantasies of killing him. In one of the destroyed rooms I found a jagged piece of marble about the size of a roof tile. I have thought about crushing his head with it. This would give me great satisfaction …
This was the writing of a very angry and unhappy person. I wondered who it had been? I wished that I could reach through his writing to comfort him, to show him the fish that abounds in every Vestibule, the beds of shellfish just waiting to be gathered, how with only a little foresight he need never go hungry, how the House provides for and protects its Children.
I wondered about his persecutor, the man who had made him a slave. I felt very sad to think that there had existed such antagonism between two human beings, perhaps even between two of my own Dead. Had the Concealed Person tormented the Biscuit-Box Man? Or the other way round?
Very carefully I turned over the scraps and examined the reverse. The writing here was even worse.
I forget. I forget. Yesterday I could not think of the word for lamp-post. This morning I thought that one of the statues spoke to me. I passed some time (about half an hour I think) talking to it. I am LOSING MY MIND. How horrible, how terrible to be in this dreadful place and MAD. I am DETERMINED TO KILL him before this happens. Before I forget why I HATE HIM.
I sighed when I unravelled this. I took three envelopes the Other gave me once. In the first I placed the scraps that I had succeeded in putting together. On the outside of the envelope I carefully wrote a copy of the two transcriptions. In the second envelope I placed some scraps that fitted together, making fragments of sentences. In the third envelope I placed the scraps I had not managed to fit to any others.
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