The Gray House, Week 3

Welcome to Week 3 of The Gray House.

I admit I am hooked on this book. I cannot wait to carve time in my week to abscond myself and listen to it.

I am currently at chapter 18 and it is getting to a crescendo. Pieces are starting to fall into place this week, and, at the same time, more mystery unravels.

Lisa commented the first week on how beautiful the language is in this book. I have to agree with her. I am declaring Mariam Petrosyan my Armenian Ray Bradbury. It’s magical, that simplicity yet that depth. There seem not to be details so small that aren’t worth her time. And that fabulous pace, that way of keeping us all at the verge. I’d say she paints vignettes in each chapter that have certain independence while being connected. She says a lot without saying much. There’s an invitation to the reader to think, to pick and choose, to advance her own theories, and to keep moving, not just forward, but backwards, in a fascinating quest for meaning.

This was this week’s section:

Week 3 (pp. 147-217)
13. Sphinx: Visiting the Sepulcher
17. Smoker: Pompey’s Last Stand

Ch 13: Sphinx says that the mirror is a mocker. He talks about Noble, Black, and he is describing them to himself when Smoker comes in. Smoker is back from that isolation room, and he doesn’t seem to remember or know what’s happened in his absence. Sphinx tells him what happened to Noble when he drank the moon river drink. He says he got rigid. Some talk, some forget how to talk. He stayed with him. Sphinx talks about the devastating openness of Smoker. He has to give Smoker a proper explanation. He tells him about how Black tried to get rid of Noble, and how they sent Noble to the sepulcher area (which is also a hospital area). Smoker thinks that’s not too bad. Sphinx doesn’t want to explain, but he does. He thinks many confusions come from things that are left unsaid.

Blue, red, and yellow marks. They have them in their folders. They represent the state of the person. Sphinx won’t talk about blue and yellow, but the red are marks of mental instability.  Smoker has one, that’s just a warning, that was his rebellious act that granted him the expulsion from the Pheasants and the transfer to the 4th. But Noble has 3 of those red marks, because he’s tried to take off his life.

Now the narration changes from Smoker to Sphinx, who is going to the sepulcher to visit Noble. It’s a whole imagery full of spiders, queen spiders, spider webs. Sphinx is talking to a nurse or someone in charge, Janus, also called Jan. Sphinx talks about how being a patient, wearing those hospital clothes, makes you not human anymore. He goes to Noble room, and they think they see a figure in the distance, Black?

Noble is called a jumper, he says he took the drink called River and spent a few months in this place, and Sphinx thinks he looks older. Noble has some oatmeal for him to eat, but he is not eating it, and Sphinx is hungry, Noble offers him the food and he eats it. There is a strange comment about Sphinx not recalling how the handle of the spoon was in the bowl like he had eaten from it. This is a hint, I believe, at Sphinx identity. They both smoke all the cigarettes Sphinx had in his backpack. Noble asks Sphinx if he’d be able to go to the undersides from another place, the outsides. Sphinx is sleepy, he has a nightmare. A man is trying to feed him to his dogs. He is 13, alone, and because of his master he learned to drink beer when thirsty. Sphinx wakes up. They talk about his nightmare. He has to go but doesn’t want to.

After he spends the night there with Noble, he has to get back to the pack, to inform them about he being at the Sepulcher, and to get more food, cigarettes, and provisions.

He leaves unseen and on the other end, all the others are already waiting for him. He sees Alexander, Blind, his pack, but Black and Smoker are not there. There’s something here I have listened to several times, but I don’t know for sure… Sphinx is talking, describing who is there, and in the end of the chapter it says, this is my pack, Black isn’t here, but how few we are… I fall behind, after the corner of my eye I see Alexander, Sphinx, and an invisible one with white sneakers.

I don’t want the posts to get super long. I cannot help but writing and writing about this, and the more I do, the more I go back, listen again, and write some more. There’s a lot of clues I am sure I must be missing.

Ch 14: Grasshopper comes back to the house. Sportsman is reading a magazine, and tells the others not to call him blonde. Someone else has come, Grasshopper has to leave. The newbie they call The Magician. Grasshopper, Blind and Wolf move to a different room. They paint the room. Elk goes to see them and says they skipped dinner but he is admiring their mural. Grasshopper did a dinosaur in relief, so that Blind, when the paint is dry, can touch it. Grasshopper doesn’t see much expression in Blind. Grasshopper has missed him and want to communicate that to him somehow.

This group calls themselves the sissies, who are there to spread disease. I wonder what type of disease they are talking about. Stinker, a wheeler with a bad reputation, wants to move with the sissies. Wolf doesn’t want him there, but Grasshopper invites him. Once there, Stinker realizes they don’t want him, but, since he is there with a big trunk full of things he has squandered from the others, they leave him. Beauty is fascinated with a juicer Stinker brings, he even has a guitar, and Wolf snatches it. The Magician joins them two. There’s two other newbies. He can sing, he can do tricks. Stinker is proud of the creepy goblin he has drawn in the wall of their dorm.

Ch 15: Smoker is talking to Black. Smoker is getting some answers about the group from Black. He talks about the girls who are in a different area. Black once saw one of those girls playing ball from the wall with Beauty (who is a boy too). They also discuss why they did not join the others who at the end of chapter 13 went to meet Sphinx when he came back from seeing Noble. Sphinx mentioned that Black and Smoker weren’t there.

Now we also understand why Black and Noble don’t get along. In the chapter with the fight, Noble didn’t want to hear how it is he had those muscles. It was Sphinx, who tortured Noble many years ago, and Black was talking about it but Noble didn’t want to hear. Black doesn’t understand how Sphinx has all that charisma when he was like he was to Noble. Black also tells Smoker that Noble tried to take his life two times.

The dark comes, and Black is pushing Smoker in his wheelchair. Smoker carries a flashlight, they are looking at the corridors with all the paintings done by Lepard. They both were trying to sleep but the pack comes back and disrupts them. Noble comes with Shark and Homer, two adults, to collect his things. He is leaving. He is very upset about it. The others cannot say proper goodbyes, they just give him some of their personal treasures. Smoker ends up finding an amulet from that hazy night of fairy tales and wine, an amulet who had what it could be a basilisk’s egg, or who knows what.

Ch 16: this was just a 15 seconds announcement that the audio was moving to the second part of book 1.

Ch 17: It is the beginning of summer. They are having games in the backyard. Sphinx is presiding there. Everybody has a place, the wheelers are given spots, the rest has to fight for theirs. The Principal is locked in his office, Ancient, who is very pale, cannot be exposed to the sun. Life in the house drifts to the outdoors.

Now the house is in commotion, everybody is packing for the summer leave. They are only allowed one bag, and it’s hysterical all they do to try to maximize capacity in it by sewing extra pockets and what not, since they all want to take with them all their possessions. Beauty wants to pack his juicer. Chapter 14 described in detail Stinker’s encounter with his new dorm mates.

The buses are ready, loading,  women, and girls on wheelchairs first, then the junior wheelers, etc. The juniors like Grasshopper, start making their way to the buses through the legs of the seniors. Grasshopper pretends to load different buses, to distract them, and escapes to the dog’s house. When everybody is gone, he goes back to the House.

He finds Blind, Wolf, and Elk there. They are not surprised to see him with them. They all will spend the summer at the House. Elk is a grown up, and he has a beaten up car. Their summer is magical. They sleep outdoors, fly kites, play pretend, when finally, some strange rain and a mysterious bird announces the end of the summer. All the others come back.

By this description of the empty House the way Grasshopper found it, and how it got populated once more, we can infer that Grasshopper went to the house in summer too, as he says, and when he saw the commotion in the yard and they gave him the nick of Grasshopper, he started his life of being bullied and living in the dorms with his peers.

I made a mistake, the audio was one chapter short from those following the book pages. This is the chapter included in week 3 for those reading the book. It is also included in week four.

Ch 18: The canteen is very quiet, as if they are mourning. Something is happening. Sphinx is the leader of the fourth, and Pompey, the leader of the sixth, is requesting the leaders of all the packs to meet him. Everybody is huddling around the fourth, expectant.

They meet at the 4th’s room, and Pompey talks to them about a law that was forgotten, that he is been reading about. Sphinx starts laughing, and Smoker thinks he is finally going to stop the charade and everybody else is going to start laughing too. But that doesn’t happen. For Smoker, they are playing roles, (as he has been saying before, it all looks like a game).

Pompey leaves, and Sphinx tells his pack that in the old times, the followers freely pledged to follow their leader and die for him if needed. There will have to be a fight. Tabaqui says that means they will have to make him die.

They are all summoned to the gym. There they all seem to make a circle, they perform a kind of dance. Smoker has no idea of what is going on. All of the sudden, Pompey is making noises, like the cooing of a dove, he reaches for the handle of a knife that is protruding from his neck. He falls dead. Blind killed him. Smoker was sick to the stomach. He is taken to the bathroom where he has to be cleaned by the others in a hazy and frantic episode.

The next day there’s officials at the House investigating what has happened.

Photo by a talented artist I found on the Internet, Tesh Parekh

But wait! we have more. Lovely Katie, -another Gray House fan, has written some thoughts on this week’s chapters. I leave you with them:

The Gray House Week Three
Sphinx, Visiting The Sepulcher

I really like Sphinx’s chapter. I wonder why the author chose to let another character narrate a chapter. We’ve only heard from Smoker at this point. Maybe it’s simply practical. I guess Smoker can’t move this aspect of the story forward. Anyway, I loved seeing Smoker through someone else’s eyes. Not to exaggerate, but I found Sphinx’s description of Smoker almost devastatingly beautiful:

“Smoker is impossible to get rid of. He opens his palm and all of himself is right there on it, and he just hands that to you. You can’t throw away this naked soul, pretending like you don’t understand what it is you’ve been offered and why. That’s where his power comes from, out of this devastating openness. I’ve never met anyone like that before.” ❤

At this point, do we all agree that Sphinx is Grasshopper? His statement about Smoker is interesting because I see Grasshopper largely the same way as he describes Smoker. Maybe he feels that Smoker is much like he used to be, though of course he says he’s never met anyone like him.

What do you all make of the dragon on the bed? It kinda creeped me out. “I shot a quick look to the wrinkled covers in the corner of the bed. The place where the dragon was sitting. Frozen. Lifeless.” Noble’s family supposedly has a coat of arms with a two headed dragon. On FTN (fairy tale not from here on out), Noble tells the story of the dragonslayer who is supposedly his father. Noble is now in the Sepulcher. What does this dragon mean? It seems like Sphinx can see it but Smoker cannot.

We get a couple dream like sequences with Sphinx in this chapter – glimpses of the Underside. He sees Wolf there! This is as he is walking through the halls on his way to the Sepulcher. It doesn’t seem like he has control over it, although he is listed as a Strider in part two. Maybe in part one he is only a jumper? He mentions being “thrown out” when he sees Wolf and someone named Skank with her “piggy eyes.” Has Wolf ever been described as having a white scar over his lip before? I don’t remember that. If not, I wonder when and how he acquired it. Sphinx then he sees Wolf again as the pack leaves the Sepulcher at the end of the chapter. He is following them, in step with them. Sphinx sees his reflection in the glass, but then when he turns to look, he has vanished.

When Sphinx gets to the Sepulcher he says, “my tail is sweeping the floor, my lips are stretched in an obsequious grin.” Tail? Like a physical tail? Do they literally become animals in the Underside? I know he’s not currently there, but could he have not fully transformed back after his little trip? There was a weird description of Blind in the Forest chapter. It talked about his limbs folding in unnatural ways. Just found it: “His legs folded the wrong way again. It also seemed that there were more than two of them now. He was probably turning into something, but the transformation wasn’t complete yet…Blind shot up and tottered away on all six of his legs, long and articulated.” They do physically transform! Apparently, Blind is an insect.

Remember early on how Smoker described his fingers as long and spider like – or something to that effect? Does that mean Wolf is a literal wolf in the Underside? Do you believe that Wolf is still alive? Did he physically die in the “real” world, but he is alive in the Underside, or is he more of a ghost now?

According to Wikipedia (sorry, too lazy to go dig out Age of Fable, LOL), Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. SUPER SIGNIFICANT, don’t you all think?? Woah, we’ve just started talking about the aspect of time in the house, the possibility of time travel, shape shifting (duality). I’m unclear, but it seems that there is a passage/doorway to the Underside. Janus represents all these things. Death is also an important, yet mysterious element to this book, and while Janus isn’t the god of death, he is the god of transitions, a term many people use to describe death.

Janus is a ginger. His demeanor, the way he speaks, reminds me of Elk. Elk was a ginger. They killed Elk, but is it possible that Janus and Elk are the same? I don’t know how that would work. It doesn’t really make sense to me. Elk was a counselor and Janus is a spider, but they seem so similar. And Sphinx loves Janus like Grasshopper loved Elk.

Sphinx seems to have another jumper experience in Janus’ office. It is a very negative and frightening experience. Doctors are spiders, and Sphinx only ever describes spider-like activity as dangerous. When he was walking in to the Sepucher, he said, “A person like me is only to their liking when he’s bound, suspended from the ceiling, and stuck all over with wires and tubes. To better suck out his blood.” When he has the experience in Janus’ office he talks about the “whispers of those who got tangled in the web and perished here. Leopard (whom we’ve only heard about as the resident who painted a bunch of pictures on the walls) Shadow. This is a terrifying place. The worst in the whole House. It stinks of death, regardless of how wee scrubbed and polished they keep it.” So eerie and ominous. What happens in this place? Are the doctors experimenting on residents? Is there abuse? The residents view the spiders as a threat, right? Yet, Janus is a spider. We expect hospitals to be a place of death to an extent, but they should also be a place of healing. The Sepulcher is a purely bad place according to the residents. There is honest fear. When Janus asks what’s happening. Sphinx says “the Sepulcher is happening to me, which is peanuts compared to what lies in store for Noble.”

When Noble tells Sphinx he went to the Underside, Sphinx says, “The House is a weird place. Here people have identical hallucinations. Or at least they start identically. And it’s not necessary to swallow or chew anything to get them. You know, I think that if any of the concoctions that the so-called experts are conjuring up here were to be brought into the Outsides and given to someone there, nothing would happen. Maybe a stomachache, but that’s all. Hard to be sure, of course, but that’s what I think. I could be wrong.” It seems doctors are creating drugs to use on the residents. It sounds very mad-scientist-esque. I assume Moon River is one of these substances. How do they have access to Moon River in the coffeehouse?? Why does Sphinx think the concoctions won’t work on the Outside? Because the house has power? Because the residents are somehow different than people outside of the House? He calls them hallucinations, yet they seem to go somewhere, right? Is it purely hallucination? A trip in the mind? It seems like they have interactions with others when they are there. Noble said he was in this place for four months.

Another TV show connection (we really don’t watch more than a few shows a year, but I guess we tend for the supernatural to an extent. Anyway…) Anyone see 11.22.63? The time travel show with James Franco where he’s trying to stop the Kennedy assassination? Sphinx’s description of what it looks like at the beginning of the road to the Underside sounds so similar to the spot where Franco’s character enters the past, and it’s the same each time.

What is going to happen to Noble? Sphinx was angry at Black for taking Noble here, yet Black seemed to think he was doing the right thing. Right? I mean, Sphinx thought Black had bad motives, but I’m not sure he did. Other people go to the Sepulcher and return, right? Why does this spell doom for Noble? What kind of treatment is he receiving there?

Sphinx explains, “This is a bad place. For every one of us. There are good places and bad places here. This one is bad. How it became this way is a long story.” So, Sphinx knows the story. Did he witness it? When he was young, was it as bad as it is now? He did not seem to feel its affects when he originally stayed there as a child. Did he? Maybe he just didn’t understand when he was little. What other bad places are there? The Cage is referred to as a bad place, yet they like going there.

It seems like Janus senses the strangeness and wants to understand, but he’s also skeptical. Sphinx tells us he was looking around “trying to see something that he wouldn’t be able to, no matter what.” No matter what. So…grown ups are incapable, or spiders are incapable, or……what? Did Elk know?

This chapter has so many key passages. I’m going to end up writing 3,000 words before I can even start talking about the rest of this week’s reading. I am not good at editing myself!!

Long ago Sphinx deduced that a patient is no longer a human being. “When a person turns into a patient he relinquishes his identity. The individuality sloughs off, and the only thing that’s left is an animal shell over a compound of fear, hope, pain, and sleep. There is no trace of humanity in there. The human floats somewhere outside of the boundaries of the patient, waiting patiently for the possibility of a resurrection. And there is nothing worse for a spirit than to be reduced to a mere body. That’s why it is Sepulcher. A place where the spirit goes to be buried. (I was going to stop there, but I think this whole paragraph is of the utmost importance and should be closely examined). The dread permeating these walls cannot be extinguished. When I was little I couldn’t understand how this name came to be. We inherited it from the seniors, along with the horror this place instilled in them. We needed time to grow into it. A lot of time and many bitter losses. It’s as if we were filling a void, a space carved out by those who came before us that somehow turned out to fit us perfectly when we filled it completely. When we understood the meaning of all the names given long before our time and went through almost all the motions that had been already played out. Even our innocent little Blume was a great-great-grandchild of an earlier incarnation; our very own baby and at the same time a reappearance of an old ghost. I’m willing to bet that if someone were to discover the archives of its predecessors, he’d find plenty of screams of rage against the Sepulcher, identical to mine.” (p 158)

I mean, woah, I could write a ten page essay on that one paragraph….once my head stops spinning. It twists and turns and just when I feel like I am starting to grasp it, I lose it.

The residents view the Underside and the ability to go there as a positive thing. Sphinx says, “It’s the House taking you in. Letting you inside. Now wherever you might be, you’re a part of it. And let me tell you, it doesn’t like its parts to be scattered. It pulls them back. So all is not lost.” How and why does the House choose certain people? It seems like there are a lot of disconcerting and dangerous aspects to the Underside. Sphinx had that nightmare about Steel Toothed, who apparently is a real guy in another place, so my assumption is he exists in the Underside. Noble is to be sent away. Will the House somehow keep him? Capture him in the Underside? Is this to be desired? It sounds scary.

Now, let the discussion for week 3 start!

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70 comments on “The Gray House, Week 3

  1. About their animal transformations, it could be their perceptions, such as in Kafka’s novel. I remember how Smoker saw that Shark had become a Shark. But the hallucinations are shared to some extent, and I know that the imagery means something (spiders, dragons, insects).

    I love the Janus research you have done, Katie. I just thought about paying more attention to the nicks. Blind. What about the Blind leads the Blind? I know that their nicknames are important, and the animals associated to them too.

    Do they experiment with them, or are they trying to keep them alive, and give them pills for their mental condition that in turn they may take or not, swoop or not, and that may give them those similar hallucinations, at least in the beginning.

    Do they hate the Sepulcher because they (doctors), remove them from the House, or because they go there in a bad stage?, or because the treatments are annoying? (Remember that Wolf told Grasshopper that he was a vampire. And he was getting treatment, what for?). Who were Ginger and Death?

    Is time at the Sepulcher different?

    It seems that Smoker and Black don’t or can’t go to the Sepulcher or the Underside. Doesn’t that have to do with their limited understanding of the pack? (They don’t play their game).

    Lots of questions, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m on the couch today, not feeling well, so who knows how many posts I will make this morning. 😁 My only hesitation is I don’t want to throw so much out there that the rest of you have so much to read through and then feel like you can never get your own thoughts out. I feel that way in the AO book discussion forum. I can never keep up, so I never end up posting!

      It’s interesting how different minds interpret works of art. I have always believed Gregor Samsa’s transformation to be physical. I don’t think it really matters whether it’s physical or not. Kafka’s point is the same either way. And maybe it doesn’t matter in this book whether it is physical or not; maybe the point is the same. Time will tell.

      You’re helping me to see from a different perspective here. I am so much on the side of our protagonists that I trust their point of view too much. Even though I don’t totally trust all of them….I am more than willing to believe that there is evil intent on the part of the caregivers – and yet I recognize that Elk and Janus seem good. The mental illness lens puts a different spin on it, and it makes a lot of sense. I do believe that some of them have psychological issues. Maybe Smoker and Black are sane?

      That question, who are Ginger and Death, keeps bugging me. I just don’t know. Do we get more from them in future chapters you’ve read, or is that all there is to work with? What is the connection between Ginger and Death? He needs her and gets really sick when she is punished, and he could die. The spiders don’t bother Ginger because they need to keep Death alive. He’s their favorite patient. If Death is a symbol, and the Sepulcher loves him, loves death, well, that seems ominous and….possibly evil. Does Death DO something? I mean, does he have a function in the Sepulcher? Or is he just a patient. Ginger seems to have special powers. Grasshopper said she put a spell on the entire Sepulcher so they couldn’t be seen. Is Death a key to the Underside?

      Are we talking about Pompey’s Last Stand this week? I don’t know anything about the historical person, Pompey. I just looked him up: “a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic….Pompey’s immense success as a general while still very young enabled him to advance directly to his first consulship without meeting the normal requirements for office…..In mid-60 BC, Pompey joined Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gaius Julius Caesar in the unofficial military-political alliance known as the First Triumvirate, which Pompey’s marriage to Caesar’s daughter Julia helped secure. After the deaths of Julia and Crassus, Pompey sided with the optimates, the conservative faction of the Roman Senate. Pompey and Caesar then contended for the leadership of the Roman state, leading to a civil war. When Pompey was defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, he sought refuge in Egypt, where he was assassinated. His career and defeat are significant in Rome’s subsequent transformation from Republic to Empire.”

      Does anyone know about Pompey? If so, are there things you could tell us that relate to our character in The Gray House? Obviously, his position as a military leader and his assassination are pertinent. Has the House been a Republic in part one? Will it become an Empire?

      Liked by 2 people

    • To quote JKR (again): “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
      (that one, and also Garcia Marquez “My most important problem was to destroy the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic. Because in the world that I was trying to evoke, that barrier didn’t exist” – these are the two quotes that I found very appropriate for the world of the House)

      Liked by 3 people

      • Fantastic. I love the openness of both of those statements, and it feels so right with the way everything is presented in this book. I’ve thought about Marquez because he is the big guy when it comes to Magical Realism. I started reading One Hundred Years of Solitude several years ago, but life got busy and I never got more than a hundred pages in. Reading this book makes me wish I had experience with his writings. Maybe once I’ve cleared some books from my stack!

        Liked by 2 people

      • You know that García Márquez came to my mind yesterday? I was thinking how magic an realism blend themselves in his books. I had never read that quote, but it fits exactly what I experience in his books. They read like an enhanced realism, in which natural explanations mesh with supernatural explanations until the many pages start to lull you, and you become one with that world that is its own. Many complain about getting very confused too, that his novels run in circles. He does some of what Mariam does but with a different device. His names are all ‘the same’, generation after generation, or very similar. You do not know which Buendía it is, for example, in One Hundred Years of Solitude…

        The peculiarity of this book is that it introduces different narrators. Those like Smoker who stand on a realistic position such as I started with, (assuming reality as we know it), and those like Tabaqui or Sphinx who talk about reality and narrate events that challenge our realistic views, who move in Fairy Tale land, with rules and legends we do not share until they reveal some of them to us.

        In García Márquez books, all characters live and die in a world that is real, and the real starts to look impossible, while the magical starts to appear ‘normal’. Here we seem to have a novel from different points of view, and the reader may make a leap from one to another, or try to explain within one or another. It is a delicious madness!

        Liked by 1 person

    • And you can read Marquez (and Borges, and Cortazar…) in the original. Envy, envy, envy.
      In fact, we (the Russian speakers) got somewhat lucky that Marquez was officially accepted back in the Soviet days (because he was saying nice things about Communism and was therefore a “progressive force against imperialist culture”), and with him the entire Latin American Boom received the best (state-ordered) translations and large(ish) print runs.

      (there was an epigraph from Borges to one of the chapters of the House, but it got cut by the Amazon legal department )

      Liked by 2 people

      • So many books, lol, so litte time! And so amazing authors in glorious languages, plus the translators! Where would we all be without translators?
        I can read English, yet I read In Cold Blood, and Farewell to Arms in Spanish, ha ha ha.
        I have to give Steinbeck another chance, Katie, I have only read his Of Mice and Man, and it may not have been the best moment for that book. -Grin- Is he one of your favorite authors?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, he is. My first encounter with him was Grapes of Wrath when I was 16. I did not like it at all. For some reason, when I was 26, I picked up East of Eden. Maybe it was the pretty edition that grabbed my eye. I didn’t like Grapes, so I really have no idea why I did it. It was a whim. But that book – oh my goodness – that book is one of the most amazing things I’ve read in my life. I read it again a few years ago. It’s probably my favorite of all novels. I also love Winter Of Our Discontent. It is a much smaller quieter novel and it is exquisite. I read it twice in a row and just cried and cried. I have yet to reread Grapes of Wrath, but I have really wanted to because I expect that, at this point, I will fall in love.

        It’s funny how we have to be in a certain place in life sometimes to “get” an author. Senior year of high school I read both Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Crime and Punishment. I HATED Kafka (who is now among my favorites). I remember thinking these exact words: “why does he need to turn his protagonist into a bug? Just say what you want to say!!” I mean, the naivete and pridefulness of and eighteen year old. And Dostoevsky on the other hand, I fell in love with on the spot, while many of my peers were moaning and groaning over him. And he’s still one of my favorites. That book had such a profound effect on me. I will never forget staying up late, under my bedcovers, to finish it, and I just wept and laid there stunned when I turned the final page. I can’t even explain it. It just haunted me. It was so beautiful and raw and honest.

        Liked by 1 person

      • A similar story. I had to read Marianela in High School in Madrid, a short book by Benito Pérez Galdós. And I didn’t like it. What’s up with a poor blind girl, all the tragedy she endures, and how innocent and positive she is about all of it? I did not like it. I declared Galdós a bore. And then, a few years ago, I read Galdós’ Fortunata and Jacinta. And the book blew me away. He is now one of my favorite authors. I am lucky he was very prolific. I have enjoyed several of his books.

        Crime and Punishment, that was an instant early twenties love. We all loved Dostoevsky when we were young, I still can recall, like you, what I felt like while reading it: the oppression, the guilt, the impact that the story had on me. I have read his Idiot, and this summer his Brothers Karamazov. I love him, but I cannot read his Gambler. (Knowing that his life was quite similar, I read it once and I won’t touch it anymore). Kafka’s Metamorphosis was OK, but when I re-read it, it hit me harder, it made a deeper dent.

        I also have a beautiful copy of East of Eden. That’s high on my TBR list now!

        There are some authors they push when we are young, or we try ourselves, but they cannot be enjoyed at that age.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I just love how we can sometimes track our growth as human beings based on the books we’ve read and loved and hated.

        Metamorphosis isn’t my favorite. I really enjoy his short stories. It’s been many years since I read The Trial, but I thought it was fascinating at the time.

        Definitely read East of Eden! My heart aches just thinking about that book!

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  2. In response to Silvia’s week 3 blog post:

    Thank you for pointing out the vignettes. This is not something I have actively thought about. I don’t always pay a lot of attention to the structure, beyond the obvious. You are right on. I suppose that might be why it is so easy to reread random chapters. I love your thoughts on the author’s ways and what it does to the reader.

    So interesting that we both chose the word devastating regarding Sphinx’s description of Smoker. I thought I was being a little hyperbolic, but maybe it really is the right word. That paragraph nearly makes me cry for the beauty of it. And it’s so simple. It’s not flowery, gratuitous language. It’s just honest words.

    You mentioned Sphinx’s comment about how few the pack is. If you look at the list at the beginning, the Fourth is smaller than the other houses. They have three fewer than the next smallest group, the third. There have been a couple comments about it being small, so I’ve wondered why. Do they lose more of their members? The sixth, Pompey’s group is the biggest by a couple people.

    When Grasshopper and his friends move out from Stuffage, the sixth, into their own dorm, is this the beginning of the fourth? Why do they choose the name Poxy Sissies? They don’t see themselves as tough guys, right? They just want to be left alone, so they are giving themselves a wimpy name. At first, I thought “poxy” referred to their statement about spreading disease, but I looked up the word because I wasn’t sure if it was even a real one, and I found that it means, insignificant, of poor quality, worthless. Like, Silvia, I wonder why they say they are here to spread disease. Is it silly kid war stuff? Like, we’re not tough like you, so we’ll make threats about giving you our cooties? LOL Or is there something more to it? A couple times, I’ve noted a few figurative descriptions of a spreading virus. The boys attract others to them now that they have their own group. These kids have been acting so tough with Sportsman as their leader, but I think they just long for camaraderie.

    In Sphinx’s chapter he says early on: “There are people who live their lives as if running some kind of experiment,” Sightless One (do you notice the titles Sphinx gives to Blind. He also calls him the Great And Powerful (which makes me think of Oz) and one or two other things. They don’t seem like terms of affection or respect. I detect some sarcasm and animosity) said about the recent events. (Does anyone understand what events he means?) Beats me why this desire to experiment takes over so many at once. With no breaks in between. Noble, then Black, and finally me. There’s a certain logic to it. Is this the way flu epidemics start? This virus of aggression and apprehension flies from one person to another, multiplying unstoppably. A dark period in the life of the pack, and one hard to snap out of.”

    How is there logic to it? And what IS it? They’ve been feeling hostile? I don’t understand what events he is referring to. First it happened to Noble, then to Black, then to Sphinx. One after the other…..

    What do you all think about Stinker? Why were they against wheelers? Just prejudice? Is there a reason to not like Stinker. “He was known far and wide…Stinker was the nastiest wheeler in the House.” I thought his big trunk of stuff was hilarious. Then he draws that super scary goblin.

    The “Black Sheep” chapter is one of my favorites. Smoker previously got Sphinx’s side of the story. Now he hears Black’s. Is it pertinent that with Sphinx we heard it from his own mouth and not through Smoker’s eyes? Here we are getting Smoker’s perception. Smoker chooses Black. I’m not sure if he’s making the right decision, but I loved that part: “I was sitting there, stunned, torn between anger and pity. I understood him. I understood him all too well. But I didn’t want to. Because it meant becoming a black sheep again. Only this time there’d be two of us. And I so wished to become a full-fledged member of the pack. To be with them, to be one of them.” Wow! “And I realized that this was it. There was no going back. I chose Black.” This longing for acceptance, for a home, a place to belong. The lonely feeling of being only two. But at least they are not alone.

    And for a laugh, I loved this Tabaqui passage: “I cleared up the strata left by Tabaqui – he seemed to regard the trip to the Sepulcher as kind of a night out, and the garments he had tried on and discarded were left covering the bed in an untidy mound.” He’s so bigger than life. So dramatic. It’s so great.

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    • I agree with this,

      When Grasshopper and his friends move out from Stuffage, the sixth, into their own dorm, is this the beginning of the fourth?

      I laughed a lot when Stinker moves. That was hilarious. Is Stinker Tabaqui? Is Noble the Magician?, or where are Stinker and the Magician in the world of the seniors?

      What has happened between Grasshopper and Blind, to get to Sphinx and Blind?

      I had not caught on those names Sphinx gives to Blind. They seem sarcastic, yes.

      Smoker chooses Black, and with that, his chances of going with the pack and knowing more about them, go away. I think they both are commiserating, and feeling united by all which they cannot understand.

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      • I bet you are right about Stinker!! It didn’t even cross my mind that he is Tabaqui, but it makes complete sense. The sense of flare and bigness, the crazy edge to him, the humor. Noble wasn’t in the House as a child. It made a big impression on me in the beginning when they were in the Coffeepot. Noble said he had been there two years and ninety days. He’s been counting the days. Black said he tried to commit suicide two years ago, so it would have been shortly after he got to the House. I wonder if Magician still exists. Does anyone else agree with me that Black is Sportsman? I don’t have any solid clues; it’s only intuition, so I wonder if others see the possibility. It could be why Black and the pack don’t get along. They all defected from Sportsman/Black’s leadership.

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      • I am with you on the Black-Sportsman. His feud with Grasshopper-Sphinx is a long one.

        I now remember that part about Noble. Noble was so kind to Smoker (when he was being trashed by Lary). Wait, is Sportsman Black, or Lary. Who was Lary then? He is listed in the fourth too. If Black is Sportsman, why is he called Black?, I mean, wasn’t he blond? (Sportsman says he didn’t go by Blond anymore, but that will explain well their rivalry.

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      • I don’t think it would be a spoiler to clarify that as Bandar-Logs are not a pack, but a loose association of boys from different packs, Lary, being their informal head, is not a Leader in the House sense.
        (in the Sporstman’s gang Lary was called Whiner, and Horse is formerly Crybaby)
        (Black is Black because of his blond hair; I think that nick is Wolf’s revenge for the scene in the Stuffage when they get back from the Sepulcher)

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      • I wondered that too, about Black’s name. Where did it come from. He is described as blond. And Sportsman had previously been named Blond. Black is described as morose, so that’s probably why the name. Keeping everyone straight gets hard, especially, I’m sure, if you don’t have the physical book. Lary is the leader of the Bander Logs and a member of the Fourth. I wonder if he was there as a child.

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      • Mariam often says that she was gradually discovering the House herself as she was writing: “the first person I bumped into was Lary, and I decided that he was the main guy there; then I met Black, and it was immediately clear that no, he was. Sphinx, Blind and all the others appeared later”
        So it’s amazing how deeply that first experience seems to have been baked into the text.

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  3. I’m purposely not reading some of this post and the comments until I post my notes. 🙂 I caught up I think! A favorite quote: “He opens his palm and all of himself is right there on it, and he just hands that to you. You can’t throw away this naked soul, pretending like you don’t understand what it is you’ve been offered and why. That’s where his power comes from, out of this devastating openness. I’ve never met anyone like that before.” p. 149

    Moon River is some sort of drug – why did Noble freeze? Still figuring out the Spiders…I forgot to put where this was from but it jumped out to me, …”some feelings are very hard to hold inside, they find a way out.”

    Sphinx and Grasshopper are one in the same? Why is Blind called, “Great & Powerful” and “Sightless One”

    Janus is mysterious, but he is the “nicest, conscientious spider.”

    What/who is Skank???

    “An armless creature running free is a disgrace, verging on a crime.” p. 153

    ginger hair people are frequent, are they too banned to The House?

    I immediately knew the connection of Janus to Rome and the January…with the two different faces because of a history book my children and I read….I liked this line, …”two different people depending whether he’s smiling.” Do the drawings on the wall mean he cares about the denizens or appreciates their crazy genius or something?

    Who is Leopard?

    Leopard & Shadow put to death in the Sepulcher? Euthanized? Or does put to death mean “banished” to the Outside like society is death???

    Principal involved means bad news for Noble.

    Sepulcher = stark, clean, white, shiny = ????? religion????

    Noble = Goldenhead = Dark Elf????

    is the rake Sphinx’s prosthetic arms???

    “I’m afraid the oatmeal might ask to get out. But the merriment switches off just as abruptly as it started. Noble darkens.” p. 159

    First mention of Underside ???

    “But as Ancient used to say, when words have been spoken they always have a meaning, even if you didn’t mean it when you spoke them.” p. 164

    I like the description of the Bull art that Leopard painted on the wall…the walls being painted over mentioned many times.

    “The morning turned out lousy. It was gray and wet all the way through, like a slippery cap of some mushroom in the forest. On days like this all the door handles resist harder than usual, all food scratches the mouth, the early birds are disgustingly perky and are not letting anyone lounge in bed, while the night owls are miserable and snap at every other word.” p. 193

    I thought the invisible one with the white sneakers might be Wolf’s ghost that Sphinx can see

    “Something ended that night, and it was more painful than an entire life spent among Pheasants.” p. 216

    childhood innocence? feeling of safety or belonging?

    I was so disturbed by Blind and the murder. Maybe because before we have been hidden from direct horror and also I didn’t understand what the old Law was…

    Anyway, more questions than answers! LOL! This is what I jotted down as I read!

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    • I love that quote about Smoker SO much! It might be my favorite of the whole book thus far!

      You brought up religion. This is something I’ve been meaning to ask. Do any of you see religious elements in this book, and if so, are they critical in nature? I’m not sure myself. Sometimes I just get a whiff, but I don’t want to read into what’s not actually there. Something that makes me curious is the Law that is talked about in Pompey’s chapter. We have a lot of Jungle Book reference in this book, so I’m inclined to say that whenever Law is talked about, it’s an allusion to the Law of the Jungle, but I think in the Pompey chapter, it talks about how it is a very old law from ancient times, and that makes me wonder if there is a biblical connection. I’m not arguing there is; it’s a tenuous connection, but it made me wonder.

      The only clear biblical reference I’ve seen so far is from Psalm 103:
      As for man, his days are like grass;
      he flourishes like a flower of the field;
      for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
      and its place knows it no more.

      Love that slippery cap of some mushroom….such a great simile.

      That bit about something dying in Smoker stood out to me too, and I’m not certain what it is. Innocence is a good guess. I wondered if it was the desire to be part of the pack. He already sided with Black, but maybe he still longed for a group.

      The manner of Pompey’s death was shocking. It was just like, BAM, done. No question. Does Blind have special powers? Does the House help him? He’s physically blind; Pompey was a big, rather powerful guy, and yet he’s taken down in a second, and nearly all of the fourth new it was inevitable.

      I think Sphinx’s rakes are his prosthetics. Kinda an inhuman term for his arms, but maybe that’s how he feels since they’re not human. I think Silvia mentioned how odd it was when he ate the oatmeal and the spoon was backward or something. I don’t really understand what that means.

      And I was also wondering why Noble was called the Dark Elf. I don’t understand that.

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      • I think that the duel scene between Pompey and Blind is a direct allusion to Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven (more the latter, actually, because it also features knife throwing), when the cocky braggart first challenges a reticent master to a pretend fight and then, not understanding that he’s lost, insists that they do it for real – and gets killed, of course.
        And I suppose Blind getting the upper hand can be explained by his heightened sense of hearing; he knew exactly where Pompey was and what he was doing by listening to his movements.
        Or the House helps him.

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      • I’m kicking myself because there are more Biblical references or turns of phrases – or even twists of verses and I meant to jot them down! I thought there might have even been one when a scene in the Sepulcher was playing out…oh man. 😦 Yes, good point about not reading too much into it. So many things could be so many things its hard not too. LOL! 😉 I think one area that made me think of religion is the one that you said, Katie, that you could write ten pages on…that could be how some people feel about religion???? Maybe I’m really stretching it…

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      • Ah, that is really helpful in how I imagine Pompey’s death. I honestly didn’t even think of it as a duel. The Western is not a genre I have much experience with. Viewing it in that context creates a different nuance.

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      • During the scene in the dorm, before Tabaqui’s one-sentence monologue, Humpback said “Shuffle says that Pompey is practicing knife throwing, imagine that” – I think that was him preparing for the fight.

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      • Amy, I have to go back and look at that passage you’re talking about. When I sent my document to Silvia to publish, it was still a work in progress, and I never got back to working out the meanings in that section. It would be a great thing to talk about.

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    • And also an example of the fanart: Black, Smoker and the White Bull

      (this is part of the portfolio of illustration to “The House” that the artist apparently submitted as her coursework for the Art major)

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  4. Oh my goodness. Silvia and Katie…all your book talk makes me feel so behind!!! LOL! 😉 😛 I haven’t read any of those, although I did try to start Steinbeck once. I find it so interesting that I found some answers to the questions I posted in your discussions! 🙂

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    • There’s no such thing as behind! Right? I haven’t read so many things, and there’s no way I will be able to read half of what I want to before I die. LOL. Those are just some of the things I have read. I always have that sense too – that I should have read this or that by now. I’ve always loved to read, and I wasn’t exposed to much great children’s lit, so I read mostly twaddle as a kid, but I fell in love with serious literature by the time I was halfway through high school. I don’t read many lite books, just because of my personality. I just enjoy the “classics.” And I got some extra exposure in college. I was a music major, but part way through I added English as a second major because I was taking literature classes “for fun,” so I thought I might as well.

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  5. I can’t wait to have my paper copy of the book.

    Yuri, that explains. I now remember the first chapters when we read that Blind went from bullied, to leader. He could hear, and he never cried. That terrified the others.

    All my doubts about Sphinx being Grasshopper disappeared now, I knew Blind killed him, but I got to thinking, maybe he was executing in place of Sphinx, who was the affronted by Pompey, and who couldn’t kill with his own hands.

    Tabaqui is adamant. He has to die. It is the Law. Don’t you think that all the House knows about this Law, and they expect the 4th to execute it?

    Amy, Shark is how they call the principal.

    No behind, Amy. I too feel there’s so much I have not read. I want to go this direction, that one too, and I can’t. We all have different reading personalities. I like the reader that you are, Amy. And it is fascinating to have common books like this.

    Like Katie, I tend to like classics more than lite books, or contemporary books, it’s personality, and I am thrilled to like a book by a living author this much (you know the saying, all my friends are dead people!)

    I missed a lot of great lit in Spanish when young, but from 10 years ago to now, I am filling that personal gap. One of my problems is that I have developed a taste for the long novel, and for re-reading, hahaha.

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    • What did Pompey do to Sphinx? I’m not quite following, but I like the reasoning that Blind would be executing in Sphinx’s place. Although, Pompey was challenging Blind’s supremacy too, right?

      Ha, yes, dead friends. I don’t read that many contemporary books. Two or three a year, maybe, and this is the best contemporary book I have read in ages. The only thing I’ve read that rivals it of this century is All The Light We Cannot See.

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      • There are so many Hounds that they don’t fit in one dorm, so they sleep in both #5 and #6. I guess they should have been more properly called the Fifth; I asked Mariam why they weren’t, and she said she had no idea.

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      • All this time I thought there was a major mystery about the fifth house. So funny that there is no important reason in a book full of hidden meaning. I am relieved to have that bit of information!

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      • (Brings to mind one of the greatest MIT pranks of all time, with three piglets being let loose on the campus, “1”, “2” and “4” painted on their sides. They were caught quickly, but the search for the missing one went into the night)
        And please get well soon; if you’d like, I could share my copy of the audio book so you could download it and not have to read.

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      • That’s absolutely hilarious. Mystery pig number three!

        Thank you so much for the offer of the audio, Yuri! This is one of those books where I am getting such pleasure reading the physical copy that I can hardly imagine switching to audio! I was able to read a bit today, and I finished the section for this coming week, so I think I will just read a bit at a time when I’m feeling up for it and hope that my brain will move in a positive direction in the coming days! I will certainly let you know if I change my mind, though! I appreciate it.

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      • At this point, all I understand is that Pompey was trying to usurp Blind’s position. Before the fight, Tabaqui and Sphinx have a heated exchange. Sphinx feels that he should have tried to save Pompey – talk him out of it – because he’s “still a human being.” Tabaqui screams that he’s an idiot and that is reason enough for him to die – “very much a reason.” Why is he an idiot? There must be a deep foolishness there for it to be declared a reason to die. It’s not an off the cuff declaration, right? Tabaqui gets really jazzed by excitement and conflict in the House, but at this climax, he seems quite grounded and serious about what he is saying. I don’t think he’s just looking for some excitement.

        Does Pompey die because of a Law He doesn’t die because of the Law Of Choice that is introduced in this chapter – that is only for followers.

        We hear a little bit about Blasted Moor’s demise. I assume he’s the same as Purple Moor. Because his house was following the Law Of Choice, not many survived. Is this why there is no fifth? That question continues to bug me. Were they the fifth house? If Moor went down, what happened to Skull? They were the dominant seniors and adversaries. Is it wrong to assume they fought each other? Well, I guess Skull could have just graduated from the House and left…..Sphinx has his amulet now. He always wanted to be Skull.

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    • And I promise I’m not stalking you, but could we possibly be nearly neighbors??? In your feed, the Madison Gardens caught my eye. I live in Oconomowoc, which is halfway between Madison and Milwaukee. Were you just visiting Madison, or are you near? I saw a couple pictures of your home and it looks much flatter than my neck of the woods of glaciation.

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  6. Yuri. I do appreciate your comments. They point in the right direction.

    I love seeing my friends become friends among themselves, whether they are alive or dead, huh!

    I apologize. I think I confused all of you with the Sphinx-Blind-Pompey.

    Pompey challenged Blind.

    I think it was Lary who wanted to become the leader in place of Sphinx in previous chapters, right? Anyway, I am not sure that Blind killed in place of Sphinx. I had forgotten that he was probably a master fighter, who needed no help to kill Pompey (though he may have had it implicit, with that ritual that the residents did when they made a circle… As Yuri said, Pompey was practicing.

    Tabaqui’s comment about Pompey being an idiot and deserving to die, may have, as you say, Katie, some deeper root in the Law he wanted to revive, and that Law of free Choice. Sphinx did not want this to happen. Grasshopper never liked seeing others being bullied. Blind did not like being bullied, but he was on a mission to see the weakness in the pack, and to go from victim to executor. He doesn’t talk, but he surely acts. I think we will get clear once we know more about Blind, like Yuri says. It has to have some connection with Elk, what happened to him, and also those Seniors from the previous generation that seem to have disappeared, and maybe now these Juniors are taking their place from a different House.

    Soon we will be told that Elk thought these young ones would be different, but they were the same as the previous ones. I hope that was not a spoiler for all of you, it’s part of the next chapter. This I don’t know either, but I believe it all have to do with the Laws they are all holding true, or rebelling against, and about Blind now, and those at the 4th who are the ones who seem to have a grip on the others in the House (except for the Pheasants, who seem to be on their own, and the outsiders or Black Sheep (Black and Smoker), who do not seem to be privy to the Game, or the Law, or whatever it is implicit, Secret, that nobody talks about but that is there. It has to be connected, methinks, to the Sepulcher, the outside, the past, the Seniors prior to these ones, and the nature of some of these guys. There goes nothing, right?

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  7. Hi Silvia:
    I’ve been wondering: have you read Bulgakov? With all the cultural references to other authors in The House, it’s the three gorgeous allusions to him that I’ve been mourning, since there’s no way of transfering them to English. If you have, did you by any chance notice them (there’s been 2 already in the text so far)?

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    • I haven’t, but I want to read his Maestro y Margarita!

      Could you tell us about those two allusions we have already read (and miss, at least I have)? Tell us a bit about that which you could not convey in English?, about your mourning, -if you wish, if it can be done, 🙂

      We have found Kipling, Lewis Carroll, the Psalms, what other authors are quoted or alluded to?

      What are Mariam’s favorite authors, music, or cultural influences that she included in the book (or even not here), if you know them?

      What other books have you translated? What are your favorite authors?

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      • Mariam is an incredibly voracious reader, I’d even say indiscriminate; the question about “favorite books” comes up often in interviews, and she says that she tried at some point to compile a list to give out as an answer, but gave up somewhere in the fourth dozen. (However, some of the books that immediately spring to mind when reading the House came out later – Harry Potter being one of them, of course, and Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go). The House grows on a deep and broad sampling of the world culture as presented in late- and post-Soviet Russia, and I’m sure I haven’t caught the half of it. The “Master and Margarita” references I’ve mentioned are: a big one, in the chess game between Tabaqui and Sphinx (lifted from the game being played in the novel between Woland, who is basically Satan visiting the 1920s Moscow, and one of his minions, a trickster in a cat shape), and a small one, where Lary’s “Broke his face today” bit is almost verbatim from the later scene where Master, the protagonist, is talking to Ivan, a minor character. I said that it’s impossible to convey because no matter how I phrase both scenes, even if I quote directly from one of the translations, it wouldn’t be recognizable (where for a Russian speaker the book is somewhere between “Hamlet” and “Cat in the Hat”, something that’s ingrained at the level of DNA).
        On the similar note, Sphinx’s mirror monologue is mirroring (pardon the pun) a scene in “Ansichten Eines Clowns” by Heinrich Boell, another author (a Nobel laureate at that) who isn’t widely known outside of Germany and Russia.
        You’re completely correct about the Psalms (Biblical references are a translator’s easy layup, since they’re universal and don’t require cultural transfer), Carroll and Kipling, but there will be more snippets and situations later on that would be somewhat recognizable to an English speaker – Colreidge, Nabokov (if Tabaqui calls to Smoker “Light of my life”, how can I not put that in?), Bradbury (his short story The Martian informs Alexander’s backstory), Steinbeck (Elk has features of Doc from Cannery Row), Faulkner (Christmas from Light in August influenced the story of Blind’s childhood); and in some cases I felt that my own allusions with the text would be appropriate, in the form of a direct quote here and there (more Bradbury, Galsworthy, Orwell, Vonnegut, Stoppard, but also Douglas Adams, and even a line from Star Trek – and here you are, a sampling of my favorites in addition to what I’ve already mentioned).
        The music preferences Mariam has put in quite explicitly – Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Jethro Tull. Classic rock all the way.
        Before The House, I’ve never had a translation into English published, but I’ve done a novella by Pelevin (that is bizarrely mirrored in the plot points by Maggot Moon, a book I’ve translated much later into Russian for the same publisher that does the original House) and a play by Evgeny Schwartz.

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    • How fascinating! I share her love for Ishiguro and for his Never Let Me Go.

      Ishiguro and Mariam do this in their books: Do the things happen in reality, in their minds, in both?, as you said, does that matter?

      Who says in the House something about reality being the way is told? (Or have I dreamed this?) This is happening to me already! LOL. I do not know if this was in the book, or in my head, or something I thought after we talked about it here… but it’s all GOOD, crazy good.

      Now I understand now about the allusions you mentioned. Thanks for explaining.

      Thanks for the list of several authors and books, some caught my attention. You will see some of us (I for sure), reading after Mariam’s, ha ha ha.

      I am now interested in Maggot Moon ;), and a dozen more books!

      I visited Russia one summer, Minsk, for almost a month, with a group of Spaniards. We were from 16 to 18 years old. I was 18, and stupid. Oh, how I wish I had been less selfish and more aware of everything around me!

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      • Never Let Me Go Makes a lot of sense with this book. (Although, admittedly, I’ve only seen the movie – when it first came out – and since then I have wanted to read the book. Now I’m thinking about it again).

        I’m not sure I can pinpoint what you might be thinking of regarding reality being the way it is told, but that certainly rings out loud and clear to me in this book as a whole. Sphinx clearly talks about how things seem and how they are when he’s talking to Smoker in the mirror chapter.

        I love hearing all the allusions, and now I will really watch out for them and I will long to be able to make connections that I can’t make because I’ve never read people like Bulgakov and Boell. And now I really want to read Boell because Sphinx and mirrors have been some of my favorite scenes so far.

        Silvia, I can relate so deeply to your last comment about the wish to have been more aware when traveling. I had the privilege of being abroad twice in early adulthood (19 and 21) and it was WONDERFUL. I love Europe – I knew I would. But I missed so much. As you say, I was stupid and selfish and had no idea the extent of the gift that was laid at my feet. I think about that now, from time to time, and I think, if only I’d had an AO type education, I could have made so many connections and been awed by so many places that I already had a relationship with. It would have meant infinitely more than it already meant. Still, I am grateful. And I dream that someday, before my kids have all gone their separate ways, we can take a huge extravaganza of a trip and just soak it all up!

        Just a heads up, I may be more of a lurker for a while. I have chronic health issues. I’ve been doing pretty good for the last year, and especially the last half year. But I had a sudden crash a couple days ago that has been pretty debilitating. I can hardly read a page right now. So, I will do what I can. In the meantime, prayers are much appreciated! But you all know, I can’t stay away, so even if I can’t be totally coherent, I’m sure I”ll still be commenting from time to time! And hopefully this will be short lived!!

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  8. Oh, Katie, I am so sorry. I will surely pray for you, that this is, as you say, short lived.

    Do not worry about commenting or reading. Just rest or do what you need to do in order to get well.

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    • Thank you, Silvia! I think I am doing a little better than the previous couple days. We have a hypothesis about what may have set it off, so hopefully we will get it figured out and I will improve!

      Here’s something I’ve been meaning to throw out there. It dawned on me sometime after we were talking about gingers in last week’s post: does anyone think it is significant that Grasshopper was a ginger and Sphinx is bald?

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  9. Katie, I hope that you can figure out what sets off your health crises.

    Yuri, I am loving the paper copy. I was flipping through the ‘listened to’ pages, and I found the comment from Tabaqui, ‘Light of my life’, he told it to Smoker, ha ha ha. (Pg 151)

    I read again the Sepulcher’s visit to Noble, and I have been missing a lot (the rakes, the conversation with Jan-Janus, it was obvious Sphinx does not have arms). At the same time, the audio has put some energy and voice in my head, but from now on, I am reading first, and probably listening after.

    That missing pig is funny!

    Right now, I am almost finished typing week 5’s post. As far as the book, I read just two pages of week 6’s first chapter, but I do not want to continue, I want to know, but I don’t want to know…

    That is very significant. I had forgotten that Grasshopper had hair, ginger hair. Chemotherapy makes you bold. Is that the tubes, etc, that Sphinx mentions that the Spiders like them to have them hooked on. Sphinx was very weak when Blind suggested, (and the others were soon to suggest), that Sphinx visited the Sepulcher. That is an inherited name. Could it be that they have cancer?, or leukemia? Maybe they are treated for pain with drugs also that they share ‘hallucinations’? Could that be the reason why Sphinx says that the Sepulcher is happening to him, and that’s peanuts compared to which Noble is about to experience?

    Jumpers and Striders. Do they take the Jumpers outside for other treatments? Do the Striders leave through some hidden place, just to the surroundings of the House? Do they quarantine them when one has the flu, because, if they are cancer patients, they have low immune system which can be compromised? How come they let them smoke? Why do the Pheasants have to have special diets, and when one starts to smoke (even if little), they have to place him in a different house? Have some of them who need certain medicines, started to give them to others who don’t need them for health, but who use them to end their life, or to get high and forget that there is an outside? Or are they also medications for their mental condition? Noble tells Sphinx about 3 substances, River, White Snow?, and Seven Steps. We know there is River in the House, expensive, and dangerous drink to ingest. Sphinx doesn’t want to hear about that, even though he knows some about the topic, ‘going outside’, he doesn’t want to hear but he wants to hear.

    I know we will get answers as we get to know their stories.

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    • Yay! I was wondering if you got your book. I think Amazon did a good job. It’s a pretty sturdy copy for a paperback and I love the cover. My kids are always asking me what the art means. They are kinda fascinated with the picture.

      I never, ever even thought about cancer. That’s an interesting hypothesis. I could be remembering wrong, but I thought at one point it was told that he shaved his head. But I might be confusing Sphinx with someone else. Someone shaved their head. I will have to go searching. My thought process was running more along the lines of is there something special/strange/dangerous/etc. about gingers and does Sphinx shave his head to protect himself or blend in.

      So many questions about Jumpers and Striders. It is easier if there is a supernatural angel, isn’t it. Then, well, it just happens; the House is magical and these certain kids have abilities to visit this supernatural place. If we are going for a realistic take, I don’t know what to think. I think your questions help, but I still feel lost. Now that I’ve finished the first few chapters of the next section, I see why you have been more tempted to think realistically – to think the underside is a product of drugs or unstable minds or escapism or something. As I’m reading book two, it amazes me how easily she shifts perspective. What an art. It has a very different feel from the first book while staying completely fluid with what has come before.

      I always wonder about the smoking too. It seems like they hide it. So I don’t know if it is actually permissible. But I always wonder, where do they get them? Maybe it’s just a necessary suspension of disbelief, but certain items they have – where do they come from? None of the residents go out to town, right? Or do they covertly when they are in the Underside?

      The Pheasants are curious. They are so rigid and homogeneous. Smoker was kicked out because of his shoes, right? Not because he was smoking. Were the shoes an excuse to kick him out because he was smoking? I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Some (or even a good part of) House dwellers have regular visits from the parents/guardians, and whatever money they receive is then contributed into the collective purse (of their dorm), with the Leader distributing it as needed. That’s where the cigarettes and other useful items come from.
        (it’s not mentioned directly in the text, just one of the questions Mariam answered for me, when I wondered about the same thing)

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Katie. That’s so true. It’s the book 2 shift that made me go with a more realistic view. And I too think she does the change in tone so amazingly. Mariam is gifted with serious story telling abilities, poetic language, a great imagination, and that ability to soak in that around her and bring it to us in such a fabulous creation… I don’t have words to describe her that make her justice.

    I am sad, though, to hear that, so far, she doesn’t have another book. But I also understand that this is not just a book, but something that took long to come to fruition. So many years! But she is a young woman, maybe in her lifetime, another book comes to her through people she imagines and draws, and that call her for another story. (I think she has only written a fairy tale after this book, that’s what I read at Wiki.)

    I hope she and you, Yuri, have success with the English book, so that you both can tour or do some USA signings or presenting of the book, and she can give interviews that you can translate.

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    • Thank you! That’s so kind! There isn’t much chance of the tour happening, of course, but I was very much struck by Mariam’s attitude to the book: “now that it’s out there, it will take care of itself”. And I’m sure it will.
      I keep prodding her to write again; maybe some day.

      One of the amazing qualities of the book is that the entire spectrum of reactions to its fantastical elements is actually contained inside; it’s totally possible, based strictly on the text, to prove that nothing extraordinary is going on at all, and everything has a reasonable explanation – or to conclude that the “real” world of the book is in the Forest and on the Other Side, and the House is just a temporary shelter for the creatures who cannot go there right away (again, bringing to mind Cortazar – “La noche boca arriba”, translated as “The Night Face Up”, where we can’t really say if the protagonist is an injured motorcycle rider dreaming of a Mesoamerican native, or the other way around). Or anything in between.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No tour? sniff.

        I do love her attitude too, like parents know their grown up children will do, take care of themselves.

        I ordered Maggot Moon, it sounded so interesting.

        When young I was also obsessed with Hopscotch, but it is time for his short stories, the one you mention in particular. I think I am seeing a bit more of Cortázar’s presence among some Goodreads readers. In Spain, in the 80’s, he was the bomb among my friends, I think even more than Gabriel García Márquez, or even Borges. I think his short stories relate well to the young and old alike. He is like a modern Hispanic Allan Poe, ha ha ha.

        There are so many literary traditions, so many authors and books and… yes, so little time! Ha, ha, ha. But I am going to be making reading room for Cortázar, that’s for sure.

        What an incredible quality of this book, to be opened to different explanations or interpretations, and for them to make sense. It’s like the book interacts with its readers. (I am even switching my interpretations, and waiting to see if I switch to the supernatural in the coming chapters).

        Like

      • I simply love what Mariam says about the book’s life out in the world. Silvia made the analogy to children, and it’s so true. Countless artists talk about their work in terms of birthing and children. I also find it fascinating that she had this specific work to do and now it is done, and she doesn’t feel compelled to write anymore, at least for now. Some artists become so desperate when inspiration feels far off, they feel they must produce because of who they are, but I think sometimes we are given something that is meant to be created and we are a vessel and we pour our life into this art that gains a complete life of its own and it’s somehow of us and yet beyond us. And if that is true, it will find its way into the world and into people’s lives – sometimes sensationally, sometimes quietly, sometimes not in the artist’s lifetime, but it will because it was meant to.

        Even more than the story itself, the thing I love most about the book may be this rare, completely open quality of interpretation. Well, maybe I don’t love it more than the story itself, but I greatly appreciate it, and it makes the story what it is. My mind wants to embrace the strange and supernatural, and now that part two is providing a more realistic view, I enjoy seeing how the two work together rather seamlessly. I just can’t help thinking of this book as layered worlds.

        And now I need to track down all these books and stories you guys are talking about….

        Silvia, I think it’s interesting that you brought out a comparison between Mariam and Bradbury, perhaps all the way back in the first week, and here his influence is clearly in the text. Good call. I haven’t read Bradbury since high school, and I liked him then.
        One more to add to my ever growing list. (Fun fact, Bradbury’s hometown is the city right next door to the one I grew up in)!

        With the mention of so many diverse literary influences on this book, I can’t help but be reminded of what Charlotte Mason said about children and creative writing: that they should not begin writing until they have been exposed to a great number of the best authors and stories; that they learn how to write, learn how to create a story from master writers they have read, and that to have children doing creative writing assignments when they are very young is not fruitful – or maybe she has stronger criticism than simply not fruitful. I don’t remember. I hope I’m not putting words in her mouth; that was a total paraphrase. At any rate….What would this book be without the wide and diverse reading of the author? Surely still a good and intriguing book. But the depth and subtlety and, dare I say, genius of it would suffer had she been working primarily from her own mind, rather than partaking in and conversing with a long standing and varied tradition of great minds.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Katie, yes,

        I just can’t help thinking of this book as layered worlds.

        I can’t help it either.

        I agree that great authors are, like Mariam, great readers, and not only!, sometimes they engage in translation too. Pat Conroy told us in My Reading Life, how he read one author, and wanted to write like him, then he discovered another author, and started to write like that one… What happens is that they see what they borrow, while we, readers, see what they offer that’s original to themselves. They adopt a principle, a tone, but they always make it theirs too. Even when authors or painters copy, if they are good artists, their work will be recognized in both senses of the word, as being theirs, and as being admired by others.

        The BBC documentary where I learned about this book, was about all those common and different qualities of Russian writers of today, and how they latch to the tradition (which is alive, like a being with its own existence, ever morphing).

        I have just edited what you comment about CM and her teachings on writing. She, as well as writers, knew that there is nothing original. The same that children are not empty vessels, creation for us, the created, doesn’t happen ex-nihilo, (from nothingness.) For us, there’s nothing new under the sun. Imitation (not crude forgery), is at the base of art.

        When I want to bake or cook something nice for my family, I watch The Great British Bake Off, or I look up at a recipe. Yes, I improvise, but with some rules or guidance at the base.

        You all have to watch that documentary, Ivan Orkin, https://www.eater.com/2017/2/17/14648642/chefs-table-recap-ivan-ramen-orkin-nyc
        His innovation was all the product of his internalization and copying of that which he admired and loved, until he emerged from all that as himself. (Incidentally, I laugh at how much he tries to cover his hurt and his totally tender nature with as many curse words as he can.)

        CM says that children have not any original to write. How could they? They have not lived!, they have not read yet! lol. Children know that when they write, they are copying what their souls are being ‘fed’. And that’s why she said to allow them to be Mind to Mind with the authors. When we write, we will bring out that which we have seen and learned in others. That’s why good writers seem to be part of a conversation that transcends all boundaries. I believe translators widen those boundaries to those who can’t access because of the language barrier. It’s like a traveling visa!

        I remember how Mary Oliver, the poet, starts her book on how to write poetry by saying that trying your hand at poetry is all very well… but…if you want to write poetry, let’s read lots of poetry, and copy lots of poetry, let’s clean pots and pans and cut onions before you think about cooking.

        The East understands copying better than we, the individualistic driven West. Nobody will engage in painting with his style for many years. They’d just copy a master, and through that copying and assimilating, learning discipline, understanding, etc., one day, a different style starts to emerge from that continuum or tradition, something original starts to take shape. In my twenties, I helped a friend from Taiwan with her PhD thesis, with her Spanish. It was about art in China, on its history and how it differed from European art at the time. And, come to think of it, that was expressed in Ishiguro’s Artist Floating World.

        Where we fail, I’d say, it’s in our understanding of the ‘copies’. CM and we all know, that when our children narrate or write, using as their material that which we have read to them, or they have read themselves, copying the style of the writer, using his vocabulary, etc., it is yet a unique and personal product. Actually, it’s amazing to hear their personality coming through, and see those elements that are completely their own.

        Liked by 1 person

      • And, I know, I know… so many books. But, should you want to read some Bradbury, his Dandelion Wine is what made me think of Bradbury when Mariam wrote about the Red Snickers. Just like that, (before Yuri told us she likes him, or that there’s more Bradbury informing this book.)

        When one person writes this well like Mariam, isn’t she all the writers in the past and to come?

        Like

      • You’ve said so much great stuff here about writing and creation. I’m going to come back and read it when my head is not so foggy, so I can draw more out of it, and maybe say a thing or two….

        Like

    • Thank you again! I’m enjoying it immensely.
      There is, of course, one more Latin American Boom story that (I think) is relevant to the book – Borges’s “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”;
      I hope it’s not a big spoiler, but the “there’s another universe that is seeping through to this one, slowly replacing it, until no one can say anymore that this wasn’t the way it’s always been” feeling is likely the thing that made Ralph run away (and he’s saying that almost explicitly).
      I hope you’re not disappointed by “Maggot Moon”; it is firmly a YA book, gruesome and harsh though it is in places. The Pelevin that is mirroring its plot in a certain way I have on my site, http://a7sharp9.com/Omon.htm

      Liked by 1 person

      • The short story by Borges was easy to find in its entirety. I will be reading it shortly. I found it in Spanish, this is a link to the English, http://art.yale.edu/file_columns/0000/0066/borges.pdf

        So there is another universe, huh! I would say I have read hints of it, (they think they see someone, the white sneakers, Katie’s comment when Sphinx saw a dragon but whoever was with him did not.

        I like YA. If MM ends up being something I can’t read, I will trade it in at my favorite used book store.

        I will also read that Omon Ra. The name is so fun to say. It has an Egyptian flair.

        Two more days to Week 4’s post! (I must keep preparing week 5, I am reading week 6, but I’m half way writing week 5’s post since I have been trying to finish the editing of the book I am working on at the moment.) TGH’s book club and our comments is helping me to distress, and it is my motivation to work on what I have to, to get to that moment when I can enter the House.

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