Seventeen-year-old Frank's love of fiction and his ambition to be a writer set him apart from his fellow citizens in this novel's Orwellian dystopia characterised by constant surveillance, repression and mediocrity. The Grey, a metaphor for the lives of this cowed people, is wonderfully captured in Priestley’s prose and in his arresting illustrations. Underpinning this stultifying atmosphere is the notion of an ever increasing suppression of the creative imagination of which, unknown to him, Frank is seen as a representative.
The written wish he finds in a bottle shocks him with its bold statement of a dissatisfaction so like his own, but also with the exuberance of its coloured lettering, challenging the status quo. The message is written, not by the middle-class girl for whom Frank lusts, but by Dawn, his childhood playmate. The friends’ growing intimacy is well handled, although their escape into what amounts to a technicoloured sunset is the book’s weakness.
In a sense, this work is at heart a state of England novel, written as it is at a time of unprecedented lack of privacy thanks to CCTV and electronic communications. It emanates from a country which seeks to curb individual rights and increase state control, beginning, the author strongly implies, with policies to regulate schoolchildren's exposure to literature. As Vertex, a senior executive in the ruling Ministry, states, ‘fiction is a danger to society.’ That in part is indeed its power, and its attraction.