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Shades of Grey: A Novel Paperback – March 1, 2011
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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The world of the near future is anything but an ashen wasteland in theimpish British author’s refreshingly daft first volume of a new fantasyseries.
Already cult-worshipped for his popular Thursday Next and NurseryCrimes novels (First Among Sequels, 2007, etc.) Fforde is somethinglike a contemporary Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear. He’s a shamelesspunster with a demonic flair for groan-worthy parodies and lampoons,and it’s just too much bother to try to resist his greased-pignarratives. In this one, which does take place in a possiblypost-apocalyptic world, a repressive Colortocracy ranks and separatescitizens according to their ability to perceive particular colors. Forexample, haughty Greens and dictatorial Yellows (“Gamboges”) deemRed-ness hopelessly lower class. It’s as if 1984 were ruled by CocoChanel. Our hero, Eddie Russett (a Red, naturally), is an affable youngman who hangs out with his father Holden (a healer known as aswatchman), killing time until his arranged marriage to fellow RedConstance Oxblood. But when son and father resettle in the odd littlehamlet of East Carmine, the lad’s eyes are opened to a confusion ofstandards and mores, and the realities of sociopolitical unrest. Whileserving his punishment for a school prank by compiling a “chaircensus,” Eddie visits fascinating new places, enjoys the wonders of theUnLibrary and the organized worship of Oz, and decides thatconscientious resistance to entrenched authority probably won’t bringabout the ultimate ecological catastrophe—Mildew. He’s a little lesssure about his wavering infatuation with Jane, a militant, pissed-offGrey (they’re the proles) who rather enjoys abusing him. Eventually,the best and brightest prosper, while characters of another color endup in the relational red (so to speak).
All this is serenely silly, but to dispel a black mood and chase awaythe blues, this witty novel offers an eye-popping spectrum of remedies.A grateful hue and cry (as well as sequels) may be anticipated.—STARREDKirkus
In Eddie Russett’s world, color is destiny. A person’s perception ofcolor, once tested, determines their rank in the Colortocracy, withprimes ruling “bastard” colors and everyone lording it over theprole-like grays. No one can see more than their own color, and no oneknows why—but there are many unknowns ever since Something Happened,followed by the deFacting and successive Great Leaps Backward. Due toan infraction against the Collective’s rule-bound bureaucracy, Eddie issent to East Carmine, in the Outer Fringes, where manners areshockingly poor, to conduct a month-long chair census. In short order,he falls in love, runs afoul of the local prefects, learns a terriblesecret, and is eaten by a carnivorous tree. This series startercombines the dire warnings of Brave New World and 1984 with thedeevolutionary visions of A Canticle for Leibowitz and Riddley Walker,but, Fforde being Fforde, his dystopia includes an abundance of teashops and a severe shortage of jam varieties. It’s all brilliantlyoriginal. If his complex worldbuilding sometimes slows the plot and thebalance of silly and serious is uneasy, we’re still completely wonover. In our own willful myopia, we sorely need the laughs.—STARRED Booklist
About the Author
Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page. He lives and writes in Wales. The Eyre Affair was his first novel in the bestselling "Thursday Next" series. He is also the author of the "Nursery Crime" series.
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The main character is a typical 20-something who accepts his reality (which is both quite a bit different from ours and at the same time a reflection of ours) with the usual cluelessness of youth. Throughout the book, his eyes are slowly opened to a truth that is hidden behind the pointlessness of the rules that guide his life.
He is a fun hero, in part because he doesn't know whats going on any more than we do. This is a good thing, because the world that we the readers are thrown into in Shades of Grey is a strange one. It is ruled by color, as in what color a person can see. The hue you see determines the type of life that you live.
You can read other reviews for more in-depth detail of the book. If you are a Fforde fan, you probably don't even need to read this review to decide if you want to buy this book. If you are new to Fforde, you can start with this book, as it is a completely new series, or you can start with the Eyre Affair to figure out what all the fuss is about.
One of the delights of the book is seeing how many of today's habits and tools are used in a new society, which has abandoned many technologies. Even without computers and internet, the citizens have feedback ratings and chat over the radiator system. Can you identify all the books mentioned in the library?
The only drawback is that this is the first of a series of 3 books, which I was unaware when I started reading. So there are still plenty of unanswered questions left.
The story takes place in a future England, although the names of places and people are not ones we are familiar with. However, reading it, you will find the setting very familiar, but surreally distorted. Take for example, the phenomenon where the politeness of society requires a certain degree of patience combined with creative pretense. If a person cuts in line while you are waiting in a queue, you might ignore it, rather than cause a scene. But if the person is naked, and tries to steal your lunch, would you be able to ignore it? In Shades of Grey, that's exactly what you'd do. In fact, nothing of the sort is happening at all. You simply can't see it., Nothing is there.
I can't say very much more about the kind of thing you'll come across, because this is a book that is best approached with no preconceptions. To get the maximum impact and enjoyment out of it, you should definitely stop reading these reviews, and just take our word for it. It's an entertaining, funny, captivating, and mysterious book, a social commentary that you will enjoy reading. How many newspaper op-ed pieces can we say that about?
Put this book no lower than No. 2 on your "to-read list". You will not regret it.