Saturday, 1 June 2019

Book #42

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Imagine a black and white world where colour is a commodity.

Hundreds of years in the future, after the Something that Happened, the world is an alarmingly different place.
Life is lived according to The Rulebook and social hierarchy is determined by your perception of colour. Eddie Russett is an above average Red who dreams of moving up the ladder by marriage to Constance Oxblood. Until he is sent to the Outer Fringes where he meets Jane - a lowly Grey with an uncontrollable temper and a desire to see him killed. 
For Eddie, it's love at first sight. But his infatuation will lead him to discover that all is not as it seems in a world where everything that looks black and white is really shades of grey.

I do adore a good dystopian novel. The future is something none of us can predict with any degree of accuracy, so I enjoy the quite overwhelming ideas which come with dystopia, despite the fact that quite often these are post-apocalyptic and bleak.

Fforde’s take is notably different to many novels which could be described in this way. Although set far in the future, after the Something That Happened, people seem to live in a fairly ordered society which allows them to thrive. It’s only deeper into the novel we realise this way of life is utterly controlled and maintained by Head Office; people are rated on their behaviours, points are awarded and removed for the most ridiculous of acts, and those in power have immeasurable dominance over those who are not. Did I mention no one can see in full colour?

In Fforde’s world, people see their surrounding mainly in shades of grey. Some see only in grey, whilst some see greys peppered with only one other colour. Your perception of this colour, whether dull or vibrant, sets your rank in life. Those who have more than 70% perception of colour are immediately raised into positions of power, with anyone lower fitting into more menial slots. Those who can see only grey are given the least desirable life of all.

This strange caste system was the most interesting aspect of the novel for me. Fforde really plays on societal customs, treatment of others, and democracy, using only an individual’s ability to perceive.

Eddie Russet is a strong Red. When he meets a Grey with a beautiful nose, he is ripped from the comfort of trusting the status quo, and plunged into an exploration of his world, and why things are done in the way they are. Fforde injects a positive message of hope that change can be brought to the system, and leads us on a sweeping mission to subvert the powers responsible.

Although Fforde takes some time to dip us into the paint pot, perseverance is essential. Once the world makes sense, once the sociology can be understood, the journey through his mostly colourless universe is one not to be missed.

Not to be confused with the other Shades of Grey, which we do not speak of.  

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