Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Shades of Grey (Shades of Grey #1) by Jasper Fforde

Something has happened. The world has changed. People see only one color, and most often, even that isn’t perfect. (The color vision is a bit strange — people can usually see just one color, but there are “simulations” of other colors, which apparently can be seen by everyone). There is a strict social structure: some colors are more important than others, and inside a color group, the color percentage you are able to see determines your standing. The bottom class is “greys”, who don’t see any colors at all. Their obligation is to do most of the work everywhere. Colors also affect marriages — the good combinations are sought on eugenic principles, and there is one severe and unbreakable taboo: the complementary colors cannot marry. That is totally unthinkable and very perverted. The life follows a set of very precise rules. Some of them are practical, like normal laws, and forbid usual crimes. Some of them are nonsensical, like prohibition of making new spoons. The old ones can be used, and spoons are very sought-after and are family heirlooms. The rules are listed in a book, and are very precise, so it is often possible find loopholes in them to circumvent their actual meaning.

A young red, Eddie Russett, is being punished after he plays a practical joke for a higher color. He is supposed to make an inventory of all chairs on a remote village. His father is a healer (healing happens by showing different colors to the patients) who also goes to the village, as the village’s own healer has succumbed in mysterious circumstances. Some of the color cards the old healer had have disappeared. That is a potentially serious matter, as certain colors can be intoxicating or even dangerous. Eddie is looking forward to a very sensible and lucrative marriage with an “old blood” red, but then he meets a mysterious and very sassy grey who seems to be very interesting (and dangerous).

This is a very strange book about a very strange world. I am not sure what these creatures are, but they aren’t normal humans — the limited color vision is just a small facet of everything that is strange about them. They seem pretty breakable: a torn ear or an almost-detached finger are not much to talk about, a broken tight bone is a serious matter, and it may take up to two weeks to heal properly. I had some different possibilities in my mind: Androids? Uplifted humanoid dogs? (There is something doglike in pretty blind obedience of a set rules and in the personalities of some characters — and obviously, the color blindness angle itself.) Everything and everyone is a computer simulation? I really don’t know, but something funny is going on. The book doesn’t explain anything — all strange customs are encountered at their own pace, and mostly they are not explained. Not even the characters really know why the rules are what they are, and they know practically nothing about what happened to the earlier world. And the technological advancement is going backwards — in a planned way. Periodically, some inventions are restricted, and are not allowed to be used anymore. The book was pretty much an uphill battle in the beginning, but after some of the basic functions of the world become clear, the reading become easier. But there were new strange details, which took some pondering on almost every page. This is a very strange but extremely original and good book.

436 pp.

Proofreading by eangel.me.

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