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Shades of Grey: A Novel Paperback – March 1, 2011
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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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This book is set in a complicated world that is very different than our own. There are many similarities, but there's also a complicated social hierarchy based on color and several physical traits in people that seem to be unique to this world (also related to how people see color). Details about these differences are revealed gradually throughout the book. I enjoy this, because I like the feeling of putting together a puzzle when reading a book. If you prefer to learn all the important information quickly, you might want to reconsider this book.
Color is important not only in terms of rank in society. At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist, Eddie, is traveling with his father to a small village of the fringe of society. His father is a “swatchman”, the equivalent of a doctor, who treats all kinds of physical illnesses and ailments— by showing the patient swatches of color on cards. Different colors treat different symptoms, and they really work (variations of green take the place of opiates!).
The society is rigidly controlled to ensure a minimum of change, but Eddie, the most conservative of young men, finds himself in the middle of controversies and conspiracies for which he is ill prepared, particularly when it comes to interactions with Jane, the young Grey woman assigned as his father’s part-time maid. Jane is different from anyone he’s known before— a woman of strength, belligerence, and anti-social tendencies. Eddie responds, of course, by falling in love. She rejects him, harshly, but he is undeterred, and only grows more enamored, and thus more drawn in to dark undercurrents of life in the village.
My attempting to describe the book without spoilers feels futile— the book is so marvelously strange, and it’s strangeness is so integral to the plot, that any description is going to end up giving things away. Suffice it to say that this first book in Fforde’s Shades of Grey” trilogy is a strange and difficult delight, and I will never see spoons in quite the same way again.