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Literature / The Gray House

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"The Gray House is enigmatic and fantastical, comic and postmodern… Rowling meets Rushdie via Tartt… Nothing short of life-changing"
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The Gray House is a Russian postmodern/magical realist novel, written by Mariam Petrosyan in the Russian Nineties. It was published in Russian in 2009, and translated to English in 2017.

The novel is set in a specialized boarding school for children and teenagers with disabilities. The time and place are deliberately obscured: one can deduce that it takes place somewhere in the late 80s-early 90s in a Fictional Country which looks like a mish-mash of post-Soviet Russia, Western Europe, and United States. It starts as a more-or-less realistic drama story about Smoker, a paraplegic teenage tenant of the House who struggles to adapt in a new group of students. Initially, he feels like he is the Only Sane Man: his groupmates are obsessed with seemingly childish traditions and "rituals" of the House, they invent strange fairytales and indulge in bizarre fantasies. However, it turns out that these "fantasies" are not fantasies at all, that the House contains many mystical (and often dark) secrets, and each of the students has their own skeleton in the closet. Things only get weirder from there...

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This novel provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Disorder: Many House inhabitants have unnamed physical or mental handicaps.
  • Artificial Limbs: Grasshopper/Sphinx, who was born without arms, gains a pair of those.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Blind goes barefoot very often (perhaps it helps him to navigate, since he is, you know, blind).
  • False Protagonist: Smoker: the first Book is told almost entirely from his perspective, but in Books 2 and 3 he gives way to other narrators.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: All the inhabitants of the House; however, Smoker's real name is revealed at one point (it is Eric Zimmerman).
  • Really 700 Years Old: As it turns out at the end, Tabaqui is living in an eternal time loop from childhood to late adolescence, so while he always looks like a kid or a teen, he's actually very old.
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  • Show Within a Show: The inhabitants of the House publish their own magazine, called Blume, with Tabaqui as chief editor.
  • The Lost Woods: The Forest, a mysterious parallel world that some of the House's inhabitants can visit. It has mysterious creatures like dogheads and whistlers, giant blackcap mushrooms and bloodsucking flowers, and a lot of other weird things.
  • The Trickster: Tabaqui the Jackal.
  • Weredragon: Alexander turns out to be one.
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