Color Blind and Other Problems

I bought Shades of Grey (Penguin, Fforde) because it has a really great cover.  I do that a lot.  It’s a problem.

In this world, which I think is sometime far in the future of our own world, your social standing depends on the amount of color you can perceive. There is a complicated hierarchy, with those that can see purple as the ruling class, people who can see red being not as important as those that can see green, and absolutely no intermarrying between complimentary colors (i.e. orange and purple for example). I’d explain it more, but I never really got a grasp on it.  To be honest, I don’t even think Fforde does.

Eddie Russet is looking to advance his family by marrying into a more powerful Red family, the Oxblood’s, who own a string factory. He feels pretty confident that after his perception rating his number will be impressive enough to edge out his competition—Roger Maroon (Eddie can see quite a bit of red, though he doesn’t like to brag). But this is complicated when he accidently falls in love with a Gray (the working class, who see almost no color at all) who has a very nice nose.

The first have of this novel is pretty tedious, I was slugging through the adorable color-oriented names, and quite frankly, baffled by a lot of the inexplicable rules and social mores of this fictional community. While I find it almost charming that spoons are a hot commodity, and everyone is terrified of swan attacks, I would have appreciated some sort of explanation eventually on what was what and why. However, part way through the book Eddie hits on a mystery. Ok, that’s not exactly accurate, because the mystery part is really introduced in the first chapter, but Eddie doesn’t get really serious about it, and start making intelligent connections on his own until part way through. What we learn is that Chromatacia is full of corruption and evil (surprise surprise), and that Eddie has been exiled to the outer burroughs not because of a trick he played on an upper-level member’s son, but because of his suspicious, free-thinking tendencies. Members of society that tend to question the system get sent to reboot—what everyone thinks is just a reahibilitation program, but what Jane Gray (of the cute nose) exposes to Eddie as really a mass genocide. Even though many questions are answered at the end of the book, there are many many more that I am still puzzling over. Why is there artifical color and ‘real color?’ What’s the difference? How can they ‘pipe it in’ to gardens and such? Why is lightening such a problem? Why are there such a weird animals roaming around (elephants, giraffes, buffalo) while there is only one existing rabbit? I think my main issue with this fictional futuristic dystopia is that all of these people are supposedly descended from us. So for my own peace of mind I need to know how we got from us to them. And Fforde never explains that. Maybe he will in the novels to come.

Sigh. Must keep reading them I suppose.


About rhymenocerous

rhymenocerous combines a fondness for hip hop with her love of the serengeti. Her soft spot for kids in space is eclipsed only by her passion for time-travelling children. She eats too much cake and frequently pretends her dachshund speaks French. View all posts by rhymenocerous

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