Monday, February 15, 2010

Grey, by Jon Armstrong

Grey, by Jon Armstrong

This is one of the strangest mystery/adventure books I’ve read in a long time. Set in a dystopian future driven by public relations, the world is recognizable as ours and yet entirely different as well. A focus on style is pervasive, from the popular sport of competitive ironing to ties made “from the bras of one hundred alcoholic teenage girls.” The title comes from a trend of people that have cosmetic surgery to see the world in black and white. “While I lay sedated, a microscopic sodium laser destroyed all the cones in my right retina. When I healed and the bandages were removed, my right eye, with only its rods intact, perceived nothing but the creamiest black, white and grey.”

As can be seen from the quotes I’ve shared here, the descriptions are fascinating and horrifying at the same time. A typical crowd scene: “A man, who looked my age, had no arms but fingers like plumes of feathers on his shoulders, stepped forward and stared at me intently as if he wanted something. A young woman, dressed in a tight silver bodysuit, had a tongue so long it hung to her knees. A clear, steady stream of saliva dripped from it. A boy had huge eyeballs that bulged from his head like a koi. A shorter, stout young man had another smaller head growing upside down from the top of his. Two men were dressed in red costumes with yellow pointed hats. One was holding what looked to be the enormous, gold spandex-covered genitals of the other. A bare-chested boy of maybe sixteen had a metal and glass contraption attached to his chest. Inside were tubes filled with blood, a spinning motor, and odd, glowing blue lights.” Unique and memorable, to say the least!

Unfortunately the plot gets lost a bit lost in all this; the narrative is simply too mundane to stand out in all the bizarre surroundings. A man survives an assassination attempt during his engagement party, causing his family and his fiancée’s family to become hated rivals. The mystery becomes who arranged the attempt and the adventure is the lovers trying to reunite despite the families. Romeo and Juliet meets the Kennedy’s; eh. Reminiscent of Gaiman’s writing, the book is compelling, but very, very odd.

First Sentence:
Nora and I finished our fried whale and plum sandwiches, our cream coffees, and the cocoa and coca pastries, and sat in a comfortable silence as landscapes of buildings and millions of well-wishers whirred past the windows at six hundred kilometers per hour.

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