Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shades Of Grey - Jasper Fforde

2009; 388 pages. Full Title : Shades of Grey - The Road To High Saffron. New Author? : No. Genre : Contemporary Fiction. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
Jasper Fforde ventures into dystopian fiction with Shades Of Grey. It is set at least a half-millenium in the future, after a catastrophic-but-undetailed "Something That Happened". We're presumably on earth; presumably near a coast in Great Britain.
It is a world where people can only see one color, and even then only to varying degrees. No one can see at all in the dark. The story centers around Eddie Russett, who moves to East Carmine with his dad, who is going to be their Color Swatchman (a healer via colors). East Carmine is at the edge of the wilds, where the rigid rules of Society are occasionally bent just a wee bit.
Eddie is betrothed to one Constance Oxford, who's definitely a step up for the Russett family lineage. He's happy with this lot until he meets Jane G-23, a lowly Grey, who's intriguing, rebellious, and therefore tantalizingly dangerous.
What's To Like...
It's Jasper Fforde, so it's well-written and well-paced, and he's a master at detailing a vivid, strange land (even if it is monochromatic here), which makes it easy to become immersed in the storyline. Shades Of Grey is a page-turner, despite being just the first book of a new Fforde trilogy.
Overall, it's the standard Dystopian Uber-Plot. The happy protagonist's eyes are opened, he starts to think, starts to question the Society, becomes a threat, and finds the Society taking appropriate steps against him. Some were disappointed that Fforde doesn't add anything new to the dystopian formula, but I don't think there's a lot of ways to vary it. What Fforde does do is present it in a new light - there's a subtle tongue-in-cheekiness tone that's not been done before in Dystopian Lit. And the idea of color-perception being the determinus of the societal caste system is kewl and innovative.
Kewl New Words...
Retroussé : upturned at the end, as a nose. Mullioned : divided by horizontal bars, as a window. Spall : to break up into chips or fragments. Nobbled : disabled; hobbled (British). Farrago : a motley mess.
The Word of Munsell was the Rules, and the Rules were the Word of Munsell. They regulated everything we did, and had brought peace to the Collective for nearly four centuries. They were sometimes very odd indeed. The banning of the number that lay between 72 and 74 was a case in point, and no one had ever fully explained why it was forbidden to count sheep, make any new spoons or use acronyms. (pg. 29)
"Do you want some advice? Go home. You're far too inquisitive, and here in East Carmine curiosity only ends one way."
"Worse - enlightenment." (pg. 110)
"If you enjoyed laughing in the face of death, you might like to have a crack at High Saffron. One hundred merits, and all you have to do is take a look."
"I understand there's a one hundred percent fatality rate?"
"True. But up until the moment of death there was a one hundred percent survival rate. Really, I shouldn't let anything as meaningless as statistics put you off." (pg. 178)
Curiosity is a descending stair
That leads only who-knows-where. (pg. 23)
The quibbles are minor. Shades Of Grey ends a bit abruptly, and the next installment isn't due out until 2014. That's a long time to be left hanging onto a cliff.
The plusses overwhelm the minuses. Fforde's wit abounds, the storyline is engaging, and you'll love the world that he paints for you, its dystopian character notwithstanding. We can now chalk up another literary genre that Fforde shows himself to be a master of. 9 Stars.


Julie said...

I have to mention that I think that is a really cool book cover. I like the title too: Shades of Grey. Just rolls off the tongue so nicely. :)
Anyway, I still haven't given Jasper Fforde a try - what book of his would be a great one to start with?

Hamilcar Barca said...

hi Julie!

have you read Jane Eyre? if so, then "The Eyre Affair" is a great place to start.

if you haven't, then "The Big Over Easy" is an excellent starting point, as it incorporates all sorts of familiar fairy tale characters.