Such wonderful writing populates all of Shades of Grey from front to back. The novel’s teen protagonist, Eddie Russett, settles himself into relegation in a new town within Chromatacia. This is the name of the book’s post-apocalyptic society, where class placement is based on the colors one can see. Rules and hierarchy come from the tenets of Munsell, the society’s founder. In our present world Munsell was an artist and inventor of a color system. The novel’s Munsell may not be so different from his real namesake. The difference is marked by Chromatacian’s interpretation of Munsell’s work. It makes for a fresh, thinly veiled allegory of Christian legalism and maddening idealistic bureaucracy.
[Rule #] 220.127.116.11.025: The cucumber and the tomato are both fruit; the avocado is a nut. To assist with the dietary requirements of vegetarians, on the first Tuesday of the month a chicken is officially a vegetable.”
The humor of Fforde’s first installment in an as yet un-continued series is cued naturally by great forbears like Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
....If you enjoyed laughing in the face of death, you might like to have a crack at High Saffron. One hundred merits, and all you have to do is take a look.”
Progressive Leapbacks had stripped so much knowledge from the Collective that we were now not only ignorant, but had no idea how ignorant. The moving stars in the night sky were only one small part of a greater understanding that had gone for good. And as I stood there frowning to myself, I had a sense that everything about the collective was utterly and completely wrong. We should be dedicating our lives to gaining knowledge, not to losing it.”
Chromatacia’s rigid hierarchy and myriad regulations leave a void that Eddie Russett feels a need to fill. Independent thinking is discouraged by the rules, but just as significantly (maybe more significantly,) genuine emotion has been washed out as well.
Those that can be troubled to muse upon the meaning of life are generally disappointed when they figure it out.”
The Apocryphal Men are alleged walking historical references, a seemingly invaluable resource to the uninformed general population. But Eddie Russett is young and discovering a passion that Chromatacia has been trying to erase. If the meaning of life is disappointing, as Mr. Baxter teaches, Eddie still wants to confirm it for himself. His longing for more, though shunned, is heavy and real. Other citizens even quietly sympathize with him.
“ Never underestimate the capacity for romance, no matter what the circumstance.”
“ Why didn’t you take the train? You’re almost certainly going to disappear off into the outfield tomorrow. And I know you can’t possibly want to marry Violet.”
END OF SPOILER
Cynics, like myself at times, may see that passage as young existential nonsense. But I believe Shades of Grey’s commendable point is whether existence or fate or a hybrid of both, human purpose and meaning are better examined and explored than dictated. That might seem like such a basic idea, but it’s especially important for young readers who feel stifled. And it may only seem basic because of how I conveyed it, but Jasper Fforde is a far better writer than I.
Note: Shades of Grey is also alternately titled, as part of the coming series, Shades of Grey: The Road To High Saffron