21st Century Literature discussion

44 views
2018 Book Discussions > Shades of Grey - Whole Book, Spoilers Allowed (July 2018)

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments WARNING - This thread is sure to have spoilers. Most of the answers to the likely questions to arise while reading aren't answered until near the end of the book, if at all, so there will be only this thread for discussing the content of the book.

Here are a few questions to start with - ignore them if you like, pose others, or just let us know what you think.

1. What do you think of how the author described this future world?
2. Were you disappointed or not that the author did not tell us what had happened to the world as it was in the past? (The author talks a bit about this here - http://jasperfforde.com/grey/bigidea.....)
3. Some reviewers have said that this book's plot is weak. What do you think?
4. What do you think about color perception as a way to classify people?
5. How is fear used to control the populace in this book. Do you think that is a form of control in our world?


message 2: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I'll start with the first topic.

I have to admit, early in the book I thought the world building incoherent, and I almost stopped reading after the first 100 pages (world building is important to me in speculative fiction; the world might be different than ours, but it should be internally consistent).

However, it did, eventually start making more sense, although I suspect the sequels (if an when, when and if, if ever) will explain more. At some point I concluded that:

1. I considered the book Science Fiction, and not Fantasy or Magical Realism.

2. The characters' ancestors had been genetically engineered at some point in the past to have a very strange relationship with color and vision and healing (they are, homo coloribus, after all, and apparently not homo sapiens). (It occurs to me, that the Rot might be a deliberately built-in feature. Ugh.)

3. There seems to be other civilization(s) around (on the moon, in orbit, across the sea); but given that they leave the Collective alone (which is good, since the Collective seems low in population and basically unarmed unless you share their genetic modifications and are thus vulnerable to shades), I wonder if the Collective is rather like a reservation or preserve. Or maybe the civilization(s) just don't care or have troubles of their own.

4. With the leapbacks and the declining population and the number of their own citizens they do in in various ways (although they might otherwise be immortal which might have issues), I not sure that the Collective isn't in the process of choking itself to death.

So the setting is interesting, but there are some rather serious unanswered questions:

1. The old technology is really advanced. So where do all the Model T's come from?

2. Who "made" the historians?

3. What keeps the Head Office from becoming a de facto hereditary aristocracy like the Communist Party in the Soviet Union? They seem to recruit widely, which is good for maintaining that all important stasis, but seem unlikely given human nature and history.


message 3: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments I’ll be ready to jump into these questions in a couple days - on vacation and I hate writing on my phone! :)


message 4: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments It is quite understandable Bretnie that you do not want to use your phone for commenting for more than a sentence!

Peter, your conclusions are really interesting! My thoughts about your conclusions:
1. I classed the book as primarily fantasy, but can see how someone would choose science fiction, given its dystopian nature.
2. I hadn't considered genetic engineering at all but makes perfect sense now that you suggest it.
3. I agree there seems to be another civilization given the "Fallen Man." I wonder if the Collective is on an island?
4. I'm with you on this. The Collective is going backwards in so many ways and it doesn't seem to be towards utopia!

Your "unanswered questions" are good ones.
1. I appreciate that each Leapback has removed an easier method of transit but I found it strange that sufficient Model T's would have survived. It is nice that the roads weren't disabled -- it would be great to have roads that repaired themselves and removed debris and probably melt the snow off -- but seems contrary to the Leapback strategy to leave them.
2. I think the historians may have been put in the Collective so that when the Collective "experiment" is over, there will be a record of how each Leapback was handled so that in the next "experiment" changes will be made to address whatever the experimenter is hoping to accomplish or study.
3. I cannot yet figure out much about the Head Office and unable to say which type of authoritarian government it is mocking.

I look forward to what others will have to say about your conclusions and questions!


message 5: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I believe that the Collective is on Great Britain (primarily Southern England and Wales), which is indeed an island.

I would suspect that destroying the roads would: (1) Be very, very difficult as they are self-repairing; and (2) would dangerously isolate the settlements, leaving only the trains to hold everything together.

Then who are the experimenters? The Head Office? Someone behind the Head Office? Maybe the sequels will let us know. If they ever get written!


message 6: by Bretnie (last edited Jul 20, 2018 08:25AM) (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Peter, I like your question about advanced technology, yet the Model T's. It's a status symbol, but interesting that the trains are their method of control. Maybe it's an illusion of freedom but actually part of the control of society.

As far as advanced technology, it reminds me a bit of our own society - we have the advances in technology to solve a lot of our societal issues - clean energy, efficient equipment, medical advances, but it's often our connections to the past and money and power that keep these from really changing our world.

I think the questions about who the is behind the Head Office are definitely left open for future books, but since there is a question of if they will be written, it may be one we won't get an answer to.


message 7: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments At first I thought the emphasis on color seemed a bit over the top. A bit silly. Maybe too obvious, like Dr. Suess's Sneeches. But I really enjoyed the world he created around the color perception since our own society places a lot of importance on pretty random, superficial things as well.

I liked thinking about what it would mean to look at art and how art played an interesting role in their world.


message 8: by Sarah (last edited Jul 20, 2018 02:49PM) (new)

Sarah | 82 comments I am finding SoG an interesting and humorous read about a future world where the strict social hierarchy is based on irrefutable, measurable biological data. I decided to test the rule: (Complementary colors are absolutely forbidden to marry) during a morning of Pickleball play. Two players wore orange shirts and two blue shirts. Game outcomes were significantly better when teammates were blue/blue rather than blue/orange! Hadn't thought of the genetic engineering angle and will do some further thinking on this topic.

I am disappointed that the author didn't describe the world as it was in the past. I like to make life choices based on utilization of past knowledge but since there are no choices in this society with absolute rules, I guess history is not necessary.

Fear of punishment for rule infraction appears to be effective - "the perception of a threat was eight times as good as a real one". A novel about societal perceptions seems very relevant to our present world.


message 9: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 82 comments Bretnie wrote: "Peter, I like your question about advanced technology, yet the Model T's. It's a status symbol, but interesting that the trains are their method of control. Maybe it's an illusion of freedom but ac..."

I am reminded of Future Shock by Alvin Toffler


message 10: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 82 comments Bretnie wrote: "At first I thought the emphasis on color seemed a bit over the top. A bit silly. Maybe too obvious, like Dr. Suess's Sneeches. But I really enjoyed the world he created around the color perception ..."

I appreciate the foundation of color perception since the author was mostly on target with psychological color theory. I like your question about the role of art in this society.


message 11: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Sarah wrote: "Fear of punishment for rule infraction appears to be effective - "the perception of a threat was eight times as good as a real one". A novel about societal perceptions seems very relevant to our present world. "

Definitely!


message 12: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments Bretnie and Sarah, interesting comments and reflections. I had not thought about color perception and art. What does a Caravaggio look like to a the varying color perceptions? Caravaggio relied so much on light (as opposed to color) but then there was the Van Gogh in the Gray section and he was all about color. Also the people in this world (outside of Jane that we know of) do not have pupils that expand in low light and that must also impact there art appreciation.

Using color perception as a means of classification made me think of the apartheid and how individuals were classified by the South African government on what "color" classification they were assigned.

I think fear is often used to control people's actions, e.g., who to vote for, who to oppose as a neighbor. In the words of FDR, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and that includes the use of fear to control.

Peter made an astute observation/question that "With the leapbacks and the declining population and the number of their own citizens they do in in various ways (although they might otherwise be immortal which might have issues), I not sure that the Collective isn't in the process of choking itself to death." I gave my first impression to that above at message 4. I still think that's true but, similar to Peter's question about the historians, why?


message 13: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Linda, I think your question ties into the missing history. The Apocalypse that Fforde doesn't show us, that he decides he would (in his own words) "stuff it in the corner and relegate the obvious thread to the ignominy of subplot status", is yet key to the current society (and maybe, come to think of it, why there are historians). I suspect that whatever happened to The Previous has led more or less directly to the Collective and its absolute fixation on stasis. Jane says at one point: "... I don't think we're the first society to embrace the visible Spectrum as the focal point of our lives. There was another before us. A better one. One that went wrong or was displaced."

I think (based in part on minor elements like the abandoned armored vehicles and the Flak towers) that the Something That Happened to the Previous was violent, and led the survivors to build a heavily locked-down society where that couldn't happen again. Leading, of course, to the entirely different set of problems that beset the characters of this book.


message 14: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments On a different note, what did you guys think of the characters? I quite liked Jane and how she helped Eddie uncover his misconceptions about the world they lived in. I also really liked Eddie's father and would hope in any future books (if they ever come) that we'd get more of his story and how much he "knows."


message 15: by Peter (last edited Jul 22, 2018 09:54AM) (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I quite liked Eddie, his father, Jane and (actually) Tommo. I do wish the (minor, local) villains has been more three-dimensional, though. Violet was perhaps just very, very spoiled, but all of the Yellows were simply vile. And for that matter, all of the Greys seemed good and self-sacrificing. A little more complexity of character might have made it a better novel.

Yes, Eddie's father is definitely a "man of the world", but as a Swatchman he'd have to be in the know to some extent. That's a thing that trumps mere color (or is that colour, since the author is from the UK?).


message 16: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments The characters who were given the most "flesh" were the ones I enjoyed the most. Eddie was well done, as was Jane. They were both more than one dimensional, as was Tommo. Violet, Courtland, and Courtland's mother had no depth. Eddie's dad, while not fully developed, was had a real personality. I don't think any of the other mature adult (versus young adult) characters showed much personality. The Colorman and the Historian were intriguing, especially the Colorman.


message 17: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Oh and the Apocryphal Man! He was so interesting! I loved him finding out that everyone could see him and that everyone was just acting like they couldn’t see him! How fascinating!


message 18: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 82 comments Thanks Bretnie, I found the Apocryphal Man interesting as well. Even with rigid, numerous Rules, there were inexplicables that were not punished but "stridently ignored". That is serious denial! Of course, you could be punished if you admitted something existed that was to be ignored.


message 19: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments The Apocryphal Man and the Historian are the same person. I found him more interesting once he told Eddie he was a historian who was over 400 years old. Now he would seem to be the guy that knows what's going on with the Collective.


message 20: by Sue (new)

Sue I'd like to know more about the Historian/Apocryphal Man and the Colorman.

Those characters both knew far more than they let on. The Colorman especially seemed to know where the Night Train led.

With Eddie tee'd up to take the National Color exam, I wonder if we'll see more behind the scenes in a potential sequel?


message 21: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments I wonder if Eddie will be able to live with his decision to let his friends take the Night Train, relying on Jane's justification that some most suffer so as to be able for "good" to prevail in the end. Perhaps, if the prequel and sequel are ever written, we'll see that Eddie figures out how to get them off the train without revealing the depth of his knowledge. I don't trust the Colorman, after he was bribed to fake Jane's color test results so that, under the rules, she could not marry Eddie.


message 22: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "I wonder if Eddie will be able to live with his decision to let his friends take the Night Train, relying on Jane's justification that some most suffer so as to be able for "good" to prevail in the..."

That is a rather dark ending... Particularly if the sequel is never actually written.


message 23: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Yep, that ending definitely left the expectation that a sequel would give us hope that their deaths would be for a greater good in the long term.

If he never writes any more of this story, how satisfied are you with the book as a standalone book? I liked that it ended on hope with the mystery just starting to unfold, without loose ends nicely tied up. But there's also so much I still want to know!


message 24: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments It almost works as a standalone, allowing the reader to decide on what the future will bring. But I'd have liked to know more about who was controlling things and why and what happened in the past. That would probably have made it a more satisfying book for me.


message 25: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments I'm only about a third into this, and it is humming along since about page 100 (as Peter indicated on the other thread--thanks again!).

I'll wait until I'm done to make more general comments, but for now I have a question. What's with noses? Eddie is attracted to Jane's nose, and then Lucy meets Eddie and says: "You're quite handsome--I like your nose especially."

Seems an unusual thing to come up twice, and I figured it must mean something? Could be I missed something obvious--there is quite a bit of stuff in here and I don't think I'm picking up on a very large percentage of it. :-)


message 26: by Sue (new)

Sue LindaJ^ wrote: "It almost works as a standalone, allowing the reader to decide on what the future will bring. But I'd have liked to know more about who was controlling things and why and what happened in the past...."

They do go on about the noses. I wonder if it's an equivalent of hair or eye color - which is how we often describe strangers. "Look at that man with the red hair!" Or "Did you see her green eyes?"

Since the characters in the book don't really see all the colors, the shape of a facial feature might take the place of color? Just my 2 cents.


message 27: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments Kathleen, I noticed the attraction of noses and agree that one would expect that it meant something, but nothing struck me as obvious. Sue supposition is certainly reasonable - if you cannot see color than shape and size may be more universally used to denote features, taking the place of color.


message 28: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments Yes! That makes a lot of sense--thank you Sue!


message 29: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments I’ve just finished. This isn’t a genre I usually read, and I tend to love or hate fantasy, sci fi and dystopian novels. So even though I don’t know what I’m talking about, I do have a couple of thoughts about the plot and the genre. :-)

The plot was strong enough—boy meets girl, goals thwarted, an adventure. What didn't work for me was the characterization and the tone.

I liked the characters, but didn’t quite believe them. Eddie was okay, but I didn’t care enough about him. I loved Jane, but when she did a complete change toward Eddie at the end, if felt false. The author just didn’t make me believe it.

And about the tone, I appreciated the humor, but some of it gave the book a juvenile feel—kind of silly.

My opinion about the genre is that it was too silly to be dystopian. Dystopia should make you scared and anxious to avoid similar outcomes. It is probably science fiction, but it felt like fantasy--heavy on the creation of a particular world.

What I liked most was the unusual ideas and the exploration of conformity. That part was fun.


message 30: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments Kathleen, I can see how you arrived at the conclusion that Jane change towards Eddie came quickly, especially given that you did not feel the book was scary enough to be considered a dystopian world. I found Peter's comments throughout the discussion helpful in seeing why the world was dystopian. Eddie's ability to sound "silly" even in the most dangerous situations did tend to make the situation less anxiety driven. I thought that at the end, even Eddie could not make light of the fact that the couple he had helped were being sent to their death. That was the point where I was able to appreciate a true dystopian world under the humor, i.e., the silliness, that often blurred it through much of the book.


message 31: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Kathleen, I can see how you arrived at the conclusion that Jane change towards Eddie came quickly, especially given that you did not feel the book was scary enough to be considered a dystopian worl..."

Excellent point. That was chilling.


message 32: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Finally finished reading this book! Here are some thoughts:

At first I had problems with the world building because so many terms were used that I had no idea what they were like Riffraff or Leapbacks and so on. It took almost to the half of the book for me to feel comfortable with it. I didn't mind that the author didn't explain what the Something that Happened was (although I wish it had a better name). As a society we rely on history and historical records to know what has happened, but even then we don't know everything, so I believe it is more realistic for their experiment that nobody knows and they are making the best out what they have with the very controlling rules for the Collective. It makes me think of communist countries and how with censorship and bans they are excluded and separated from the rest of the world and they might not know even how much.

As for the characters and their relationships, this was the weakest part of the book for me. As Kathleen said, Jane's change of heart towards Eddie was too sudden for me, I didn't quite believe it. The Apocryphal Man/Historian was the most interesting character, I wish he had explained more of what he knew of the world and what he's seen in the 400 years. Hopefully if there are sequels we will know.

Overall, I enjoyed the dystopian world and would love to know where it is heading.


message 33: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments Jessica, That's an interesting insight about history and how knowledge of it is controlled by the "winners." Perhaps we will have to decide for ourselves what the "Something that Happened" was, as the rest of the trilogy may never see the light of day (or not in my lifetime!). Shades of Game of Thrones.


message 34: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments I was thinking today of a trilogy that I liked - Wool- where I loved the first book but the next two weren't quite as satisfying. The first had a lot of mystery in "what happened" that led to the world the book was set in. The next books filled in a lot of the questions, but it ended up being a little disappointing.

Which made me think of Shades of Grey, in that I hope more books get written, but if they don't, I don't mind having unanswered questions since sometimes answered ones aren't answered the way you were hoping.


message 35: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments Yes, there is a bit of a Catch-22 with a trilogy!


message 36: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Mysteries can really pull me in (this is true about television and movies as well as books) -- I want to know what's going on! Once all the mysteries are dispelled, the pleasure of trying to put things together is lost, and some interest departs. Also, many times, the mysteries that are revealed aren't as interesting (to me at least) as my speculations.

I'm pretty sure whatever the author has going on in Shades of Grey is pretty strange, though.


message 37: by Suki (new)

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 23 comments Well, I *finally* finished the book! I have read all of Fforde's other books over the years, and found them to be fast, fun reads, so I expected this one to be in the same vein. I love color and color theory, and I really like the way color is used to structure the society in this book. I really wanted to like it and I was fully prepared to like it, but unfortunately, it worked on me exactly the opposite way that the Perpetulite road works on organic matter-- rather than absorbing me and drawing me in to itself, it kept pushing me out, leaving me stranded on the surface of the story. I didn't really connect with any of the characters, and if I tried to read the story too long at a time, I grew distracted and had to set the book aside. I found that the world-building was the most interesting part of the book for me. I wonder if Fforde will ever finish the trilogy; this book didn't work for me as a stand-alone, because there were too many questions left hanging, obviously meant to be addressed in a sequel.


message 38: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments Reasonable response for sure. I'm not expecting another title in the series anytime soon.


back to top