Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan
First published in Russian in Russia by Livebook in 2009. English language translation by Yuri Machkasov published in America by AmazonCrossing in April 2017.

My Book Of The Month for December 2017

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

I received my review copy of The Gray House back at the beginning of 2017 but, being intimidated by its 700+ page length, kept putting off even starting to read it until now. This was a serious mistake - The Gray House is absolutely brilliant! Seclude-yourself-for-a-week-with-your-phone-turned-off breathtakingly brilliant! I could easily write a whole review of fangirl superlatives, I loved this book that much. Yet, that said, it won't be to everyone's taste. I have seen other reviews using The Lord Of The Flies as a comparison and inasmuch as that book centres on a group of unaccompanied boys I can see their point, but I wouldn't necessarily agree. Perhaps if Salman Rushdie had written Gormenghast the result might be closer to the fantastic and fantastical richness of The Gray House?

I obviously want to impart as much of my enthusiasm as possible, but am struggling to describe Petrosyan's novel in a way that will do it justice! It is set in a neglected House for physically disabled children, children who have mostly been effectively abandoned there by their families so, other than attempts at lessons, the tribes of boys (and, later, girls) are left to their own devices. Living by complex sets of rules and Laws, we see their limited world through their own eyes. I loved that this world is limited by the borders of the House, not by the various disabilities. Ingenuity, inventiveness and camaraderie seem to render most disability irrelevant.

The story is told from different points of view, some first person and some third person, with each speaker having their own distinctive voices. The Gray House is divided into three books each with their own lengthy character list at the beginning, but I didn't bother with the lists as I soon found myself easily identifying and remembering characters by their Nicks (nicknames) and actions. Like new boy Grasshopper, it took me a while to settle into the House, but once I began to understand its ways and its stories, I was absolutely engrossed.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Mariam Petrosyan / Contemporary fiction / Books from Armenia

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