Friday, April 15, 2011

'Shades of Grey' by Jasper Fforde

15 April 2011

Regular readers may remember how much I loved Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crimes novels (reviewed here in April and October 2007) and his Thursday Next literary detective series (reviewed here in August, September and October 2008 and February and April 2009). I’ve just finished reading his latest novel, ‘Shades of Grey’, which is a much more ambitious, complex and serious work. It is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian society far into our future in which social standing is determined by your ability to perceive colour – with the majority of the population only able to see grey and just a privileged few families seeing yellows, greens or reds. Fforde creates a future world that allows him to examine our current ‘colour’ prejudice and other aspects of discrimination. It also provides a backdrop for puns and parodies, though this is such a distant future that many of the ‘ancient’ artefacts and technologies that being rediscovered and misunderstood date from many centuries into our own future. The complexity and allegorical nature of Fforde’s future world reminded me of ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ by Walter M. Miller, Jr. and ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster. This oppressively regimented society with its governing ‘Rule Book’ is a very Orwellian vision of the future, albeit one with more than a touch of Douglas Adams. Jasper Fforde is never less than entertaining, and ‘Shades of Grey’ has a clever plot and a great range of comic characters, but it’s not half as funny as his earlier novels. It feels like a more grown-up work and is impressive in its complexity but I missed the sheer silliness of the other books. This future society is so far removed from the familiar that you really have to pay attention to follow the story, particularly in the early chapters where I found myself having to keep re-reading passages to make sense of them. This felt, at times, like hard work – though the prose itself isn’t difficult, just the alien setting. And I think I was paying so much attention to making sense of the unusual world that I probably missed much of the humour and hidden references to our own society. ‘Shades of Grey’ was enjoyable and intriguing but one for Jasper Fforde aficionados with some patience and determination.



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