REVIEW: The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan

Mariam Petrosyan’s award-winning epic The Gray House is a sprawling yarn of a story, a coming-of-age tale wrapped up in threads of magical realism and mystery. The eponymous House is a boarding school for disabled children and teenagers, which sits on the outskirts of town, ignored by the people of the Outsides. Its residents, a colorful and quirky array of youth with a never-ending supply of nicknames and shenanigans, construct for themselves an inner-world of games, rituals and intrigues that is independent of the Outsides and the adult world. Relative newcomer Smoker serves as a stand-in for the reader as he attempts to navigate the complex social structure of the House’s various factions and unwritten rules, piecing together bits and pieces of its mysteries, which are as twisted and meandering as the corridors of the House itself. As the narrative switches backwards and forwards in time, alternating narrators and dislodging perspectives, the intrigues of the plot slowly begin to unravel themselves to reveal the sinister truths at the core of the House and its inhabitants.

Petrosyan’s world-building is astonishing in its imagination and its surfeit of rich, vivid imagery and detail. To step into this book is to enter a fully realized, multi-dimensional world of her creation, full of intimate details and a cast of unforgettable characters whose eccentric and often humorous ways beget a sense of familiarity borne of Petrosyan’s confident and unconventional prose. Yuri Machkasov’s intricate translation of this literary tour de force is an impressive feat, and a delight to English-language sensibilities.

This massive undertaking of a book is not for the faint of heart, and will likely best be appreciated by lovers of literary fiction and magical realism in the vein of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Wholly original and linguistically rewarding, it will charm and reward patient readers with its heady revelations and profound insights.

The Gray House
Mariam Petrosyan
Translated from the Russian by Yuri Machkasov
2017, Amazon Crossing
ISBN: 9781503942813

By Jenny Zbrizher

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