Book blurb: In a world pushed beyond the moral simplicity of black and white, all that survives is Grey.
High fashion, corporate malfeasance, celebrity culture, and an obsessed media collide with exuberant violence and volatile intensity in Grey, the explosive debut novel by newcomer Jon Armstrong.
For Michael Rivers, life is perfect. Michael has everything; tall, handsome, and famous, he is worshiped by billions of fans around the globe. He is wealthy beyond measure, the heir apparent to RiverGroup, one of the handful of high-tech corporations that controls the world. He is fashionable, setting trends with his wardrobe of immaculate designer suits, each a unique and celebrated work of art. And Michael is in love, perfect love, sharing a private language based entirely on quotes from the latest fashion magazine advertisements, with Nora, his beautiful, witty, and equally perfect fiancée, the only woman with whom he can see surgically-altered monochromatic eye to eye.
Thoughts: I finished reading Grey last night before bed, and had a difficult time falling asleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I suppose that could be taken as a good sign, but my primary concern was trying to figure out if I’d actually, y’know, liked it.
There were elements of the book that I absolutely loved. The descriptions of the clothing and people were quite vivid, and I had no problem visualizing the entire book as a movie playing out in my head. Grey takes place in a futuristic world where corporate mergers are signaled by marrying off the children of rival companies. Competitive ironing is a televised sport, family security/assassins are known immediately by their garishly coloured leotard-uniforms, one (quite literally) needs protection when watching a band play live and there’s an entire sub-culture of those who’ve had illegal surgery to burn out the cones in one eye so that they can only perceive the world in shades of grey – these are all interesting ideas and visuals that I had no problem getting behind.
The thought of your status as a company being determined – not by the type and efficiency of the service you provide – but by your favourite bands, fashion designers and what magazines you read…well, it hit a little close to home. In an era where everything we do can be cast into the public eye and the distiction between classes is greater than it has been at any time since the feudal ages, Armstrong’s ‘fashionpunk’ dystopia seems all too plausible.
The ‘commoners’ live in an extremely poor area referred to as the Slubs, where odd forms of prostitution and drug use are the norm. In an attempt to better themselves, they have some seriously weird forms of elective surgery (There’s a prostitute at the beginning who has had a second set of genitals added to her belly button. She charges extra for that. O.o), and all aspire to one day be part of the Families. The intense squalor they live in is further emphasized when we visit the Family Compound, which is encased in a bubble that keeps carbon dioxide out. Hugely intricate carved facades, oxygen gardens…just some really strange stuff – but, again, great visuals.
Against this backdrop, we follow the semi-love story of Michael and Nora. They are the children of two of the most influential Families/businesses and are set to marry to seal a merger. They fall in love on their first date, speak in a code derived from the ads in their favourite high-fashion magazine, and gaze lovingly at each other through their cone-less right eyes. In true dystopian fashion, their love simply cannot be – but they will be together, or die trying.
So, as I’ve already stated – I really appreciated the attention to detail in the world-building that went on in Grey, that being said…it still needed a lot of work. Editing problems aside (someone relied far too heavily on spellcheck and had a difficult time maintaining continuity – especially with regards to which eye was supposed to be greyed out), the story seemed to kind of fall flat in places. It was like the author knew where he wanted to go, but wasn’t quite sure how to get there so he just threw in some more bizarre descriptions to distract us from the lack of plot. Another issue I had was with some of the dialogue. There were many times where I felt like I was reading a transcript of an old Speed Racer cartoon. This could have been intentional, though – the author did say that he started building the idea for this book while living in Japan.
Grey could have been great. Instead, it reads like a bit of a rough draft with promise. I can see where Mr Armstrong was headed and I really like that place. I just think it needed some fine tuning and a little more time in the editing bay. This is one of the few books I’ve read that I think would be better as a movie. I can see everything clearly in my head, and it would be a spectacularly gorgeous film.
As an aside – if you have issues with strong language (there are times when the eff bomb is dropped 10 times on a single page) or gore, this really isn’t the book for you. Heather, I’m looking at you.
3/5 stars: Weird, but in that good weird kind of way. If it were a little better paced, and a little more attention were paid to the editing process, it would have been a four or five star book.