Susanna Clarke’s Five Favourite Labyrinths

Photo of author Susanna Clarke and her novel Piranesi

Susanna Clarke is the winner of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction with her novel Piranesi, a gothic tale of a very singular, labyrinthine house and its mysterious inhabitants.

We caught up with Susanna Clarke to ask her about her favourite mazes and how they inspired Piranesi.

1. Ursula Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan. It’s one of her Earthsea books and contains an underground labyrinth. It’s not a pleasant place, but it is fascinating (plus there’s a map, so you can walk around it by yourself if you like). The protagonist, Arha, must enter the labyrinth in total darkness. Once inside she is allowed to light a lamp or a torch. Like Piranesi, Arha prides herself on her skill in negotiating the labyrinth’s paths. Like Piranesi, there is a question over her real name. Like Piranesi, she faithfully follows rituals, but unlike Piranesi her gods prove false in the end.

2. The House of Asterion, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges contains a labyrinth very closely related to the one in Piranesi. It is quiet and dusty and empty.

3. Laputa: The Castle in the Sky is a Studio Ghibli film by Hayao Miyazaki. This isn’t strictly speaking a labyrinth, it’s an intricate and surreal combination of trees and architecture – and it’s also in the sky. Its ancient robots faithfully tend the birds and the trees and plants in a very Piranesi sort of way.

4. The Maze at Chatsworth House. The hedge maze is more or less what you’d expect, rather dusty in summer and worn from all the people’s feet; but the space in which it stands, a great sunken rectangle surrounded by tall trees is very like an impossibly large, sunlit hall.

“Moria has all the pleasurable horrors of a labyrinth”

5. The Mines of Moria from The Lord of the Rings are rather an obvious choice, I suppose, but I do love them in both the book and the film. Moria has all the pleasurable horrors of a labyrinth: a long, walk through the darkness, led by someone who’s forgotten the way, menaced by something people would rather not name, opening out into an ancient, ruined and deserted splendour.

6. The episode of [British television detective drama series] Endeavour which contains the statue of the gorilla also has a hedge maze. It’s an unremarkable maze except for the fact that it contains a very pissed-off tiger. This adds a certain frisson.

Discover more tales of female resilience on the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist here.

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