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Shades Of Grey 1 by Jasper Fforde

01/05/2011. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Shades Of Grey (# 1) in the USA - or Buy Shades Of Grey (# 1) in the UK

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pub: Hodder & Stoughton. 432 page small hardback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-340-96305-0.

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A novel that re-invents ways of seeing must be the future with authors grappling with the form of the novel or even its continued existence. It’s good to find one that turns our own perception on its head.

Eddie Russett, son off the Swatchman (‘Holiday Relief’) has been banished to the Outer Edge. A town like Carmine likes to bend the rules even if it can’t bend the spoons. For some reason no new spoons are made because they have been left out the list of acceptable objects. This is a very prescriptive world. As such, spoons are like contraband and highly prized. In this world, you are defined by how much colour you can see. The greys are at the bottom of the social heap, they are the workers and the drones. Then there are the primaries: reds, blues and yellows. Violets are top of this rainbow with the greens and oranges waiving their own flags of aggression and docility respectively. Eddie Russett could be a red on the rise if he secures Constance Oxblood but his chances are not so good while he is exiled and mobility among the Chromatics can work both ways, with the wrong marriage plummeting you down the social and colour scale.

All would be well except not only is Eddie wearing his ‘must learn humility’ badge but also manages to fall in love with a grey. Jane is determined to escape her colourless future and will make a stand before her inevitable trip to ‘Reboot’ training where all thoughts of rebellion will be removed. Just what she makes of Eddie is plain, as her threats range from immediate death to the more downgraded option of a broken jaw.

It’s all there for Eddie to see. He just has to open his eyes and decide which of his new friends he can genuinely trust.

‘Shades Of Grey’ not only offers an interesting take on the future of the human race but challenges how we look at the world. Jasper Fforde is known for his comedic novels but this moves him on to another level where a whole world that is alien to us starts to make perfect sense. It’s a wild riff on how being colour-blind affects your life and it’s a superb example of creating an environment that challenges our way of thinking. At its heart is humanity but ‘Shades Of Grey’ does more than it says on the tin as it paints in some understanding of how others may see the world quite differently from yourself.

Sue Davies

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