The Gray House

Mariam Petrosyan, trans. from the Russian by Yuri Machkasov. AmazonCrossing, $10.99 trade paper (734p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4281-3
The titular house in Armenian writer Petrosyan’s massively absorbing and sometimes frustrating novel is a boarding school for physically disabled students on the outskirts of an unnamed town. The distinctly supernatural house is a three-story “gigantic beehive” made up of dormitories, classrooms, and other less formal spaces, each with their own set of rules and secrets. The students—known only by nicknames bestowed upon them by their peers—divide themselves into tribes based on their assigned dormitories, and these close-knit groups work to uncover the mysteries of the house and its history while also trying to avoid war between the factions. Rich with startling details and vivid worldbuilding, the novel unfolds in alternating points of view as characters learn about how the house operates differently from the largely unknown world outsides and collectively wonder about what will happen after graduation, when they must reenter a world that they no longer know. Much of the novel consists of the students telling fairy tales to each other about the “Outsides” and what they know of the house’s past and their own place within it, building a personal mythology as a way of explaining the strange world in which they have found themselves. The witty dialogue, sharply drawn characters, and endlessly unfolding riddle of the house’s true nature buoy a narrative that sometimes seems as meandering as the hallways of the house itself, a series of entertaining anecdotes rather than a cohesive whole. But the intellectually and emotionally rewarding conclusion confirms this fantasy novel’s undeniable power. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/27/2017
Release date: 04/01/2017
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