Red sneakers drawing by neko-gato.deviantart.com.
This is the artist gallery.
Welcome to the first week discussion of The Gray House.
I want to thank all of you who bought the book, who are willing to read along, and to even participate.
On an impulse, I knew I wanted to read this book, and driving on that impulse, I proposed all of you who wanted, to read along with me. Now I realize I’ve asked you to do something I myself don’t know if I’m going to enjoy, and for that I thank you. ❤
The book was not what I was expecting in a Russian novel. To me, Russian novels are denser and heavy loaded with lots of names, philosophical, political, and theological conversations, and elaborated descriptions of the outside and the inner world, of events and people. A challenge (even though some are amazingly engaging). Yet the more I listen to it (I chose an audio for it), the more it is growing on me.
I read about a group of bloggers and readers in Spanish, who, a few years ago, were trying to do the same we are, -reading along-. Most of the participants quit reading, though the one or two who finished the book got to appreciate it much in the end. I’m not sure why, but some complained about the length, and about not understanding it, –since the book drifts into the magical, and doesn’t have a simple linear structure-. It’s possible they were readers of lighter/shorter books. My crowd (all of you, guys), has some great reading muscle. I don’t envision any of you being bogged down by this book extension or format, though maybe, some of you don’t like it. If that’s the case, I apologize to you, and I hope you know that you have permission to quit and move into greener reading pastures.
I can say that the book has wrapped me into the house atmosphere and its inhabitants at once, and I’m not bothered if the stories are left and new ones come up. If that’s the case, I wait. Maybe the author will give them closure, maybe not. I’m enjoying the fact that this is a long book. I’m becoming fond of the characters, and I enjoy what’s being said.
A friend at Goodreads says he doesn’t think books are about plot, that plot is just 2 and a half pages of each book (or could be condensed to that), and the fun of a book is how it’s told. I do agree. I like books like this, books about nothing at all, because they are also books about everything. This first 7 chapters had some brilliant moments where eternal questions are being presented through the interactions of the characters and their thoughts. The narrative is captivating, it flows and lulls you, and it wakes you up violently.
The book hit me as a YA, and a dystopian book, and, I don’t know about you, but I love a well written YA book.
Smoker shows up in what I called chapter 2, SMOKER, ON CERTAIN ADVANTAGES OF TRAINING FOOTWEAR, after a very short introductory pages that I called chapter 1, in which we get a mysterious and poetic description of the House.
Smoker defies the system by wearing his red sneakers and smoking (even if he only smokes a cigarette every five days). He lives in the Gray House, a place the people who live in the surrounding area hate. A House with rules that are not true yet they are not full lies. There’s a pretense of harmony, happy living, but the inhabitants of the house are all crippled, and there’s gangs, and bullies, and twisted dynamics among the members of the six sections who seem to be grouped by certain traits.
The children are supervised by grown ups. Smoker calls them cockroaches. When they vote him off the first section, where the pheasants live, he goes to the principal’s office. The principal, Shark, is not just a man with a nickname, but, Smoker notices, he’s become a real Shark. I enjoyed that encounter.
Smoke makes a furtive visit to the section 4 headquarters coffee place. He is almost not accepted, but Honest pays for his mysterious drink, and for coffee, and they engage in a talk about the preconceptions those in section 1 have about those in section 4. Smoker realizes that information about his conduct having been brought up into the public assembly, has reached those in section 4. He talks about having been bullied by Larry, (another member of section 4), and about Shark telling him he’d be transferred. He is not sure where to, but Honest thinks it may be to his section, number 4, and he gives Smoker some tips on what to do when he leaves his room in section one. Those rules don’t seem to make sense to Smoker, but he’d remember them nonetheless.
Chapter 3. We leave Smoker now, and we are taken outside of the house, where a handsome boy and his once acknowledged beautiful mom are walking to the house. The boy feels cold. They’ve walked long after the bus dropped them. The boy doesn’t think that the sun reaches the house. He confirms that when he touches the walls. The house is cold. Upon receiving him, there’s an initial confusion by those at the door until they notice he doesn’t have arms under the coat, hence his reason for being taken to the house. His mother leaves, and he starts his life at the strange house.
The Boy is new, and he’s not used to the house. Elk, a grown up, asks Blind, who is the same age than the new boy, to take care of him. Blind does take care of the Boy because Elk asks him. Blind is very taciturn, and the Boy doesn’t like him. Elk asks the Boy to describe what he sees to Blind.
By the end of this chapter the Boy looks at some people in the backyard. They look wonderful. As he gets closer, he flies down the stairs and realizes that the people are glued together, one called Moore looks purple, there’s another one called Skull, Witch the Godmother, Ralph, and they give him a nickname, Grasshopper.
Chapter 4. The House. It’s a short chapter that describes to us Larry and Horse. Larry is the leader of the pack in 4th. Larry is aggravated by Horse. Larry seems to resent the weight of being a leader, he is lonely in his position. The pack has a mission, which is to bully the Pheasants. Now there’s a Pheasant in their midst, that’s Smoker. The section about Larry’s zits made me laugh.
Chapter 5. This chapter was my favorite from week 1. I listened to it several times. Larry attacks Smoker who was drinking hot coffee. Life for Smoker at the 4th quarters is not that bad. There’s some Big Brother elements in the book that start to surface even more. At the 4th, its members are free to do what they like, but they don’t know how ‘good’ they have it since they have not been to a place like the 1st quarters, (abode of the Pheasants, where Smoker comes from). But life has a difficulty for Smoker, since Larry, to stay in his position, feels the compulsion to attack him. While Smoker is at the bathroom after Larry’s fierce attack, looking at his reflection in the mirror, and crying, Sphinx comes to talk to him. The conversation is revealing. Smoker realizes he doesn’t want to act like a Pheasant, and go to Shark to tell him what Larry has done. Sphinx leads him into a new way of looking at himself, without self pity, out of the ‘box’. Smoker, with Sphinx as a bit of a “Socrates” in his questioning, resolves to act differently (as in attempting to defend himself), and also ‘release’ Larry from his compulsion to attack Pheasants who never retaliate.
Chapter 6. The Pack. This is a different pack. It seems to be the younger’s pack. They are 13 children. Their leader, Sportsman, doesn’t seem to have any apparent disability. They all bully Blind and Grasshopper. Now the two have joined the other children at the House, and the practice of bullying and attacking the newbies for a bit is taking longer because Grasshopper is protected by Blind. Blind loves Grasshopper. He is sure they can turn their fate, no matter they are two, and the pack is 13 of them. Blind thinks that the pack is breaking down somehow. In his zeal to protect Grasshopper, he achieves for him something unheard of. He goes to the one called Ancient, and convinces him to give an amulet to Grasshopper. Ancient tells Grasshopper that his friend is very obstinate, and that it’s the first time he gives an amulet to one of the young ones. The amulet contains Grasshopper power, but he cannot look at the pouch with it in two years, and that power will not come to him immediately. Nonetheless, Grasshopper is elated, and plans to keep his promise of not looking (since opening the necklace pouch will result in loosing the amulet’s special power).
Chapter 7. The Backyard. Interlude. This chapter introduces us to Humpback. It has a poetic beginning. Humpback laughs thinking he becomes a tree. He’s outside in the cold, without a shirt. It’s a self inflicted punishment. He was hurt when he was younger, and he’s overcompensating for that hurt by faking a different self and personality than his own. He is ashamed of his hump, he has a hidden personality, a sensible personality, he covers it with a rough tough facade. When no one is listening, he can play his flute beautifully.
Did you expect anything else? What’s surprised you? What is that you like or don’t like about this book? What do you think so far?