Thursday, April 16, 2020

Armenia: The Gray House, by Mariam Petrosyan

It often seems to happen that, when I have trouble finding a book from a particular country, the solution comes in pairs. So, not long after I located Aram Pachyan's novel Goodbye Bird, I also came across a reference to Marian Petrosyan's fantasy novel. It sounded so intriguing, I bought it as well. But at over 700 pages,it is not a quick read, so it stayed on my shelf for quite a while before I started it.

I've been working my way through it since Christmas, reading other, shorter, works at the same time. But its uniqueness kept me going. While I describe it as a fantasy novel, it's not typical of any genre. On the surface, the world it describes seems almost normal at first. It is set in a residential school for children with various physical disabilities - although in The House they are not seen as disabilities, merely individual characteristics. And the House itself seems to be alive. As the novel progresses, certain happenings become stranger and stranger. The culmination of the book is the final year and graduation of the group of pupils on which the book is focused.

There were one or two points that seemed to be a bit odd - not odd in the sense that this is a fantasy, but odd in a way that didn't quite fit. There seemed to be only two intakes of new pupils over a twelve year period so that there were juniors, all roughly the same age, and seniors, also all roughly the same age as each other. The seniors had only observed graduation, and The Longest Night that preceded it, once in their time in the House,before it was there turn. One would expect - even in the context of the world of The House - new pupils each year, with a full range of ages at any one time.

Minor points such as this, however, could be overlooked in the overall powerful story telling.

This is Mariam Petrosyan's first novel and also likely to be her last - she worked on the book for eighteen years, and says that readers should not expect another book from her, since The Gray House is not merely a book but a world she knew and could visit, and she doesn't know another one. She was born in Yerevan, Armenia in 1969, where she currently lives, after a time in Moscow. The book was published in Russia in 2009, and translated into English by Yuri Machkasov. It was published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle in 2017.