The Author Who Terrified Neil Gaiman
This Week on the Book Dreams Podcast
Tensions are running high at Book Dreams! Why? The fantasy novels of author Susanna Clarke, that’s why. After Julie—and multiple Book Dreams guests—strongly recommended Clarke’s novel Piranesi, Eve gave it a try, only to quickly toss it on her DNR pile. Outraged, Julie insisted that Eve not only finish Piranesi, but also dig into Clarke’s 800-page doorstopper Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Can Eve see the error of her ways? (Can you tell who is writing this description?) Is she still speaking to Julie? Should you read the work of this divisive maestro? Take a listen to this week’s episode to find out.
From the episode:
Eve Yohalem: Terrible things happen, and [Piranesi] is aware of it, and he doesn’t pretend it doesn’t happen. He doesn’t pretend that it’s anything less than terrible, but there’s just this radical acceptance of this is what happens. And he feels sad at times. It’s not that he’s impervious.
Julie Sternberg: Right.
Eve Yohalem: That was the thing that moved me most about this book. Piranesi is this incredibly careful, nonjudgmental, and forgiving observer and listener.
Julie Sternberg: You know, it’s so interesting because I remember calling my therapist during COVID.
Eve Yohalem: Mm-hmm.
Julie Sternberg: And I was being irrationally bothered by the sound of airplanes.
Eve Yohalem: Okay.
Julie Sternberg: Just like they’re driving me–
Eve Yohalem: I’m so excited to hear how you tie this into our discussion of Piranesi.
Julie Sternberg: They’re just driving me crazy, you know, when an airplane flies over and it feels like it’s happening all the time and every time it happens I get very tense and frustrated. And, of course, I can’t control anything about it, which is, of course, at the heart of so many of my problems–what do I do? I felt like it was an incredibly frustrating conversation with my therapist because she said, “You have to try to just listen to that with no judgment.”
Eve Yohalem: Mm-hmm.
Julie Sternberg: “You have to try to hear the airplanes and just be like, ‘It’s an airplane. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It’s just an airplane.’” And this is not the first time that she has advised me to react to life, to try to be very, very attentive to details and description, to what’s going on in a very nonjudgmental way. That is the key, according to my therapist, to mental health, you know, and living a good life. And [Piranesi] does that.
Eve Yohalem: Yeah.
Julie Sternberg: He’s able to do that. That is the effect, in part, of this house. And it has a lot of benefits.
Eve Yohalem: It does. For one thing, when you don’t try to shut out the airplane. The world gets bigger because the world includes the airplane.
Susanna Clarke‘s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, was first published in more than 34 countries and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award. It won British Book Awards Newcomer of the Year, the Hugo Award, and the World Fantasy Award in 2005. The Ladies of Grace Adieu, her collection of short stories, some set in the world of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, was published by Bloomsbury in 2006. Piranesi was a New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller, and shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award, the RSL Encore Award, and the Women’s Prize for Fiction
Book Dreams uses books to explore topics we can’t stop thinking about. Hosted by Julie Sternberg and Eve Yohalem, Book Dreams releases new episodes every Thursday. Visit our website for more about the show: www.bookdreamspodcast.com.