07 February, 2012

Fiction in Summary - Jasper Fforde - Shades of Grey

Such a beautiful hardback.
Jasper Fforde is now the writer of THREE book series - Thursday Next the literary detective, the Nursery Crime series and this - Shades of Grey. Only the first of this new series has currently been published, and is a dystopic, adventure-led love story set in a world where colour perception determines class. Greens are highers than Reds who are higher than the Greys - equivalent to the proles in Orwell's '1984'. That is not where the Orwell similarities end - our central protagonist, Eddie Russett, is a fighter-against-the-system made to make difficult moral choices, and is led astray by the wild and masculine Jane, with whom he falls in love.

His covers are consistently amazing... I want them all.
The whimsical and immaterial nature of the world in which our central characters reside takes the focus away from the seriousness of their rigid class system and the impending danger. This is a fun, and a funny, novel - but never are we far away from Fforde's latent seriousness. The novel is dense with literary allusion and one is never far away from a joke about our society. In itself, the novel is far removed from the world in which we live, but comparisons can be made, about freedom, the futility and failings of religion and of criticisms of rules and authority.

Critical reviews of the book focus on its 'plotless' first Act, and its failure to come to a climax in the final pages, to leave room for the pre-planned sequels.  The first 200-or-so pages of the novel allow us to relax and get used to the world into which we have been thrust. Most dystopic, through language and characters' attitudes, distance the reader, and to some extent, continue to do so in order to present a consistent world and a reliable set of rules. Whilst some - such as Brave New World - thrust us right into action before we have grown accustomed to the style, Fforde (rightly so, in my opinion) allows us to relax, take all the information in, before serious action, of which this book is not lacking. The book does fail to answer some critical questions, but as Fforde intends to write at least two sequels, it is not as if we will never get the answers.

Fforde has continued his terrific trend of writing compelling, well-imagined and interesting series, of which Shades of Grey is probably the latest of many to come. The book is laugh-out-loud funny, enthralling, and the perfect afternoon read. Nothing too taxing, but a clever funny book - science-fiction with heart. Read this for laughs, shocks and a book you'll want to read in one sitting.

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