14 April 2011

A grey Fforde

I have blogged before about Jasper Fforde, the comic literary genius author of the Thursday Next books (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels, and the latest TN One of our Thursdays is Missing), Nursery Crime (The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear), The Last Dragonslayer, and Shades of Grey. Jasper is an amazing author: he is steeped in literature and his books ooze literary allusions, but they're not stodgy - they are laugh-out-loud funny (particularly The Well of Lost Plots).

I have been re-reading Shades of Grey, the first book in a new series set in a dystopic England - well, it's the same geography but not the same land! Most dystopias start off with the event and look at society's spiral to disaster - Jasper has what he refers to as "the Something that Happened" 700 years in the past, and no-one really cares about it! The key premise of the book is that in this society, people are categorised by their ability to see colour: Purples are at top of the social scale, followed by Blue, Yellow, Orange, Green, Red, and then Greys who can't see any colour at all. There is an organisation called National Colour who artificially colour things with "univisual colour" that everyone can see. The society is completely hierarchical, but underneath the strict social patterning there is a veritable nest of nastiness discovered by our hero Eddie Russett. Colour is used for healing, for social status, to determine marriages and social engineering like who can have children, for all sorts of things.

The story is brilliantly constructed. We are led into Eddie's world bit by bit, until it even seems normal to think that people can only see one kind of colour (I have a friend who is severely red-green colourblind so this concept was not completely alien). I recognised elements of classic dystopias like 1984 and Brave New World, but it was so much cleverer and funnier than either of them! Highly recommended, and I really can't wait until the sequel comes out - apparently it's to be called Shades of Grey: Painting by Numbers (technically the first one is Shades of Grey: the Road to High Saffron). Interesting to see where he takes this world!

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