I feel guilty when I read fiction these days. I should be reading my textbooks instead and as a consequence reading has dropped off my free-time pursuits like I’d drop off an F6c.* It’s a catastrophic shame, but even when I’ve accepted that no work is to be done I still can’t bring myself to read fiction because, perversely, I’ve spent so much time reading already today.
Anyway, Shades of Grey. I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything by Jasper Fforde but if you haven’t, you should. His books are quirky, unusual and original, usually set in worlds similar but not identical to our own. Shades of Grey is a new outing for him and is set in a post-apocalyptic world yah-dah-dah-di-dum you’ve heard it all before…but wait. You finish the book and have still no idea what that apocalypse was, and the characters in the book have little interest in finding out (at present). The new society in the book bears no resemblance to anything you’d imagine and is instead based entirely on colour perception – people’s sensitivity to it indicates their place in the world and has led to a caste-like system of discrimination and racism, all in the name of fairness. The ability to see at night has been lost, and old pictures show frightening ‘hollow-eyed’ humans with large pupils. Edicts from the ‘Head Office’ are released which slowly and inexorably ban more and more old technology, and that which is used is not understood. All animals have barcodes on them. The people cannot see the stars. The world is governed by Rules for every occasion, apparently set by someone called Munsell – but who was he? The book takes an unusual setting in that a new world is very much established, and you spend most of the book learning about it and how it functions and seeing the bizarre conflicts, politicking and cares of the community of East Carmine, a rural town far from the benefits of the National Colour Grid.
It is one of the few books I have read which suddenly and without warning became quite serious, that has buried in the quirks and loopholes and Rules of this new civilisation something dark and unknown; a grim truth that is so subtle and all-encompassing that it rocks you to the core.
I guess the most important question is: where have all the spoons gone?
*A grade of climb that, at the time of writing, I would need a massive assisted dyno (see top-rope tough guys) to finish.