Review Blog

Aug 16 2010

Shades of grey: The road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde

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Hodder and Stoughton, 2010. ISBN 978 0340963043.
Recommended reading level 16 onwards. Highly recommended. Whilst it sounds contradictory, this first book in the Shades of grey series is nothing short of brilliant. Impossible to put down, the futuristic story bombarded me with notions of Fahrenheit 451, Catch 22, 1984, The Handmaid's tale, Soylent Green, and curiously, A clockwork orange for the made up but understandable language. Fforde has imitated nothing however and delivers a wonderfully new description of future society where one's lot in life is determined by which divisions of the colour spectrum can be seen. Far from being just another obscured reflection of contemporary racial discrimination via analogy and not-so subtle substitution, this narrative is thought provoking and clever without being palpably moralizing. Fforde has created a marvelous new society with amusing quirks, gross injustices, ridiculous controls and enthusiastic rule breaking. The characters are very human in the sense that they are clearly people as we are, not aliens or evolved humanoids. They are also human in that the reader likes them, loathes them, feels pain with or wishes come-uppance for them. Writers of future fiction often succumb to the expectation that savage punishment and violence is experienced by those who break rules or rebel against oppressive regimes. Not so in this story where a multitude of rules control every aspect of life and whilst there is a sliding scale of demerits, the whole system has the appearance of a dreary, inefficient but benign British civil service. The setting is obviously English and a post cataclysmic Reformation or perhaps deformation has occurred many centuries prior to the story's setting in which most technology is retrograde by our standards. Amusing references to contemporary life are obvious, such as characters being obsessed with collecting positive feedback, Ebay style and formally negotiating to be friends as in Facebook.
I highly recommend this book and suggest that it will appeal to readers of all tastes, not just science or future fiction fans. This would be an ideal text for a special study by senior students as a myriad themes leap out, however I hasten to add that it contains nothing which I would be uncomfortable with my thirteen year old reading.
Rob Welsh

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