The year 2004, Susanna Clarke (Nothingam, 59 years) became one of the peaks of contemporary world literature , combining fantasy and leafy and Dickensian realism from another century, specifically, the 19th, in the monumental Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Salamander), instant classic of the genre (Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award) and not only of the genre —the Times considered it the best novel of the year, without more. And then it disappeared. “Oh, the disease was devastating. It appeared shortly after publication. There were days when I couldn’t do anything because doing anything was excruciatingly painful for me. So I stopped writing, ”he says of the chronic fatigue syndrome he suffered. He’s at home, somewhere in the UK, and there’s a huge reproduction of The Red Tower , the painting by Giorgio De Chirico behind him. “It’s a powerful image, its surrealism fascinates me,” he says.
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And no, despite writing about magicians and magic , his library is not extremely rich with spell manuals or anything like that. It’s not Shirley Jackson, he says. “The occult repels me,” he says. The room where the video call was picked up, a week before winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction, is a dark room. “But speaking of Shirley Jackson,” she adds, “at night my husband is reading to me right now We have always lived in the castle , isn’t it a coincidence? ”He wonders. When he stopped writing, he also stopped leaving the house. “Suddenly it was like I wasn’t a writer,” she says. And despite this, his fame did not diminish in the least. He grew as his readers grew, and his only novel, the one that tells the story of the return of magic to the United Kingdom and its consequences, became almost a mythological paper creature.
Time passed. A decade passed, and almost another. And there were those who wondered if Clarke would write again. “I started doing it when I started to improve and I recovered an old story, an idea that I had at the 20 years, when he read Borges and lived in London. A huge house appeared to me somehow besieged by seas. I had written a few pages then, because those stories by Borges, his stories about labyrinths, had awakened something in me, they had asked me to answer them with my own story, but I had not known how to do it. In 2015 I found that pile of pages and got back to the idea. Suddenly I felt like a writer again. That’s when Piranesi appeared. At first it was someone angry for being trapped in that place without knowing why, and it did not work. Then I told myself that, in his own way, he should be happy in there and it worked ”, he remembers.
Piranesi (Salamandra, translation by Antonio Padilla) is his second novel —a Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was followed by a small collection of stories set in that universe, but nothing else— and the first one published in 16 years and, being very different from that, maintains intact its condition of rarity of the highest literary voltage. If there he traveled, in form and substance, to a nineteenth century in which anything was possible —even bringing fiancees from the dead—, elevating to perfection a Charles Dickens who had grown up reading C.S. Lewis and Ursula K. Le Guin – the pair of authors, she admits, who made her a writer – here she locks herself in a labyrinth and experiments, also in form and substance, leaving the reader in the dark, at the mercy of the protagonist’s annotations, that he knows nothing of the mystery that surrounds him.
His diaries are, at the same time, a compass and the only map of a world under construction, which depends on the story. “The story is a powerful thing. It builds you, ”he says, and talks about how a woman was not able to recover from her illness until she put it into words. It does not say that it is herself. But it could be. The drawing of something new in Piranesi is intuited, and it may have to do with its new limitations. “It was clear to me that the story had to focus. I didn’t have enough energy to write another Jonathan Strange ”, he points out. The mythology in Piranesi is a cryptic, minimalist mythology, with more rooms than characters, but it is a mythology at last and after all, and it is not without magic. What has he got with magic, and wizards? “What interests me is not so much magic as the power of what we cannot see,” he replies.
“In my novels, magic is conceived as both wonderful and dangerous. There is some criticism of that power, everything that magic allows you. For things to be exactly how you want them to be ”, he adds. He cannot say why more magician novels are not written, magicians being characters with so many narrative possibilities. “When Tolkien and Lewis wrote, fantasy literature was not a genre, and now it is, and that makes magicians tend to move to a very specific place in the bookstore, and perhaps writers shy away from them,” he says. She does not intend to do so. “When I was a child, my parents kept moving, and I had a hard time making friends. But he didn’t need them. I created my own worlds, and they were worlds in which anything was possible, until I was accepted into the very close community of Bradford! ”She says, amused.