Monday, 18 January 2010

Shades of Grey


A future world, Chromatacia, after the "Something That Happened" is run by the Colourtocracy and the collective are ordered into chromatic hierarchies, based on the limited colour that they can see see. Eddie Russett, nineteen years old, is a Red and there is nothing that he can do to change that; the test, your Ishihara, doesn't lie and you can't cheat the Colourman. Reds are only one shade above Grey, the worker bees of the collective, and it is crucial to Eddie and his family's standing to marry up within his part of the colour spectrum; some people marry for love but more often marriages are arranged or auctioned and nobody ever marries a complementary colour. Eddie is on a "half-promise" to marry Constance Oxblood until he and his father, a Swatchman (medical man who heals using swatches of healing hues applied directly to the retina) are sent to East Carmine on the Outer Fringes, for Eddie to attain humility. In the Outer Fringes Eddie falls in love with a Grey named Jane, a tempestuous revolutionary who hates you mentioning her nose, and begins to question the Rulebook. Questioning the Rulebook could earn a Reboot in the Emerald City but exactly what does that involve and are inquisitiveness and applying logical theory to queueing systems so harmful to the chromatic collective? Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde opens with Eddie about to be eaten by a carnivorous plant, an attempt by Jane to kill him, and his narrative recounts the previous four days' events that brought him to the deserted village of High Saffron and this inconvenient state of impending death.

In essence, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde is a Dystopian novel that contains, well, shades of classic Dystopian literature such as the futuristic Nineteen Eighty-Four, the nightmarish The Wizard of Oz and shares its carnivorous plants with John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids; however, where Fforde's other series of books are rich in literary allusion, he relies for the most part on his own inventiveness. Fforde has boundless creativity and imagination and his chromatic dystopia is highly original and intelligent. To begin with the detailed intricacies of this futuristic world and its dictionary of terms and Rules are a little hard to follow but it is such a vividly rendered world and engaging plot that one begins to see things the bursts of synthetic color and realise that things are not simply black and white, that there is a sinister undercurrent to the Colourtocracy, especially when you do not conform and exhibit any curiosity. Despite the departure from Fforde's usual alternative realities, that are a little more fantastical, and its more serious tone, Shades of Grey is hilarious; I love Fforde's satirical humour and often think that I am missing some of his intelligent jokes.

As well as immensely absorbing storyline and many laughs, Shades of Grey also contains moments of intense pathos; the last few chapters of the novel left me feeling unsettled yet also excited for the sequels and the last page had my heart in my mouth. For those who enjoy their Dystopias with a heart (think The Hunger Games) then read Shades of Grey; I also recommend it unreservedly to those who may not have been impressed by The Eyre Affair (I wasn't blown away by the debut but adored the remainder of the series), new to Fforde readers who enjoy witty original fiction and those readers who think they don't enjoy sci-fi.

But all doubts came to nought on the morning of your Ishihara. No one could cheat the Colourman and the colour test. What you got was what you were, forever. Your life, career and social standing decided right there and then, and all worrisome life uncertainties eradicated forever. You knew who you were, what you would do, where you would go and what was expected of you. In return, you simply accepted your position within the Colourtocracy, and assiduously followed the Rulebook. Your life was mapped. And all in the time it takes to bake a tray of scones.


25 comments:

Marg said...

I am a big Fforde fan at the best of times, and I have to say that I am getting more excited at the prospect of reading this book with each new review I see!

Lenore said...

Yay - glad you liked it. I am gearing up to read this for my February Month of Dystopian fiction!

verity said...

Am glad this book lived up to your expectations - not one for me though!

Jeanne said...

I've already bought this book, because I'm a big fan of The Eyre Affair series. But is there really no ending, just waiting for sequels? I hate that.

Kals said...

I'll read this because it's Fforde and because he's probably the most inventive, absolutely creative writer I know of late.

I hate the 'waiting' ending though. He did that with Well of Lost Plots, I think, and that was disappointing!

Paperback Reader said...

Marg, I loved this book! I hope you do too.

Lenore, your February Month of Dystopian fiction sounds exciting! I hope you enjoy reading Sahdes of Grey during it.

Verity, I'm relieved that it did as it is so disappointing when a favourite author doesn't deliver. I agree that his isn't your type of book.

Jeanne, it ends and the storyline is resolved but it is obviously part of a trilogy and leaves with things to look forward to; feasibly though it could be read as a stand-alone.

Kals, his creativity amazes me.
It's not a cliffhanger ending but there is a sense of waiting for a conclusion although the first storyline is resolved. The only way I can think of describing it is by comparing it to Harry Potter - each book works on its own but you know that it is building up to the big fight.

savidgereads said...

Ooooh your review was sooo much better than mine I knew it would be. All the complicated stuff about well pretty much everything you did so much better. Envious? Very! Ha!

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, you make me blush! I enjoyed writing it; it is such a wacky premise and summarising it was fun. Reviewing Fforde I think is similar to reviewing Pratchett: both are difficult to summarise and give impressions of because saying that their satire and humour are brilliant is all well and good but unless people read it for themselves then they won't really get it. I thought I'd made this sound appealing to non-Fforde fans but I think you have to have an out-there imagination and developed sense of humour to appreciate it.

Steph said...

So glad to see that you enjoyed the book, Claire. I admit that this one took some time for me to warm up to, I think because there was a good deal of world-building at the beginning, but I think it really finishes strong and I definitely felt my stomach drop during those last few chapters. I think Fforde took a lot of risks with this book, yet somehow managed to make it seem exactly like his kind of book, which is really impressive. It's great to see that he's stretching himself as an author and giving us readers more provocative literature!

Aarti said...

I've only read the first Thursday Next book, but I thought it was SO clever and great! I should really continue on with Fforde- he seems so creative and fun!

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I didn't realise it was a dystopian novel - I think it has jumped up the TBR pile very quickly!

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

I have never read anything by Fforde, but I hear a lot of good things about his work. This book sounds really intriguing, I think I might be tempted soon. Great review!

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I haven't read any Fforde, but this book does sound amazing. And, the cover is gorgeous!

I enjoy good dystopian reading, specially if you toss in an element of Wizard of Oz. Will add this to my wishlist, and hopefully get 'round to it sometime soon.

Escaping into a Book said...

My mother and I are fighting over this book already! We both loved Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series and his Nursery Rhymes books too. They're not the usual type of books that I read but they are a very good exception to the rule! His writing is always so clever and well thought out - I don't know where he gets his ideas from!

Paperback Reader said...

Steph, he challenged himself as a writer and it paid off; writing outside his comfort zone he attained something that was both a departure and also an identifiable part of his oeuvre. He has such a distinctive style and humour that SoG was very much a Fforde novel and only disorientating, to begin with, because of, as you point out, the world making. I want to reread Thursday Next now and decide which series is my favourite! Silly question perhaps until they are both complete.

Aarti, the Thursday Next novels continue to be clever and great! His creativity and sense of fun are what I love about his books and I wholeheartedly endorse them. Go read!

Jackie, that doesn't surprise me! I think you would really enjoy it.

Kay, I hope you enjoy him when you do read him! I loved this one.

anothercookie, the cover is amazing and so much better than the US one! The design is embossed onto the hardback as opposed to a dust-jacket.

I adore Dystopian literature too and this had all the best elements of it whilst being set far enough after the apocalypse that the why and how didn't matter.

Hi Escaping into a Book, thanks for commenting. Fforde is a fine exception and different from what I normally read too but one of the most enjoyable and anticipated writer I read; he is so inventive and his ideas are completely out of left-field! I attended a talk given by him tonight and he replied to an audience question (about the shortage of spoons in this novel) that he didn't know how he came up with such a bizarre question, he just did!

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I am really looking forward to this one and so glad to see that you (and other readers) enjoyed it! Now I'm just that much more eager to get my hands on a copy of it.

Jenny said...

Oo, goody! I've heard incredibly good things about The Eyre Affair, but my mother (who shares a lot of the same book tastes as I do!) said she got bored with it. But I still want to try Jasper Fforde, and this looks like a good place to start.

Karen said...

I have been trying to decide whether or not to read this one. I love the Thursday Next series but I think the fact that it has a significant literary focus keeps me linked in - I do love Fforde's writing though...

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Claire, thanks for commenting. I hope you obtain a copy soon and enjoy it every bit as much as I did.

Jenny, this would be a great place to start. I wasn't bored by The Eyre Affair but I didn't think it was as wonderful as everyone said it was; the rest of the series, however, are brilliant.

Karen, I would definitely give this one a go since you love Fforde's writing. It may not be your cup of tea but I loved it!

makedoandread said...

That sounds fascinating! I have to admit, while I loved The Eyre Affair, I found the subsequent sequels rather tiresome. But this sounds right up my alley!

Jodie said...

The concept reminds me of the idea behind 'Flatland' but using colours instead of shapes. Bet this is funny though.

Paperback Reader said...

makedo, I preferred the follow-ups to The Eyre Affair! I think because the literariness and allusion really come into their own in the further books.

Jodie, it IS funny! Fforde reminds me of Pratchett although that's an easy comparison to make as they both satirise using humour and fantasy. I don't know 'Flatland' but you've intrigued me.

coops said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
coops said...

I'm loving the Thursday Next series so no doubt will pick this one up too.
Interesting interview with Fforde at Goodreads - http://bit.ly/a0cOsH

(edited to fix link)

Paperback Reader said...

coops, glad you're loving Thursday Next and hope you enjoy this too! Thanks for the interview link.