Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

13 December, 2010

I’m such a huge fan of Jasper Fforde‘s Thursday Next series so I wasn’t sure about his newest venture, Shades of Grey. Naturally, I had nothing to be worried about. His Nursery Crimes series is superb and his Shades of Grey series is as well, albeit with a little more brain-work involved.

I have to hand it to Fforde that he is probably one of the most creative writers I have come across. Everything he touches is completely new, the concept, the world he creates, like gold dust.

I have to admit that it took me awhile to get into Shades of Grey. The world he’s created is so different and complex and you’re not entirely sure whether it’s a parallel world or something that will reveal itself to be something totally different from what you were thinking. Of course the mystery deepens as you get more used to Fforde’s chromatic world.

In Shades of Grey, Fforde has created a world set in a future that has experienced some kind of epiphany/apocalypse where the rules of society have been completely recalibrated by a figure named Munsell to follow the rules of colour and optics. People are divided into different shades of colour inherited through their genealogical lines. This is determined by how much of one colour they are capable of picking out, purple marking the highest going down to grey (or no colour. This is really clever as you mix all colours they tend to mix into a dirty grey.) Thus Purples and its shades occupy the highest class in the tightly controlled society and Greys the most menial. Yellows are in charge of controlling the society followed by Blues and Reds. Marriages are strictly controlled depending on the mixing of colours and any opposing colours are not qualified to marry (eg. Yellow and Purple). All the characters have surnames relating to which colour they belong to and our protagonist, Eddie Russet belongs to the family of Reds. Readers familiar with Fforde’s fiction will be tickled to see him work out the details and having fun with all the rules of colour familiar to artists. Interesting, no?

Eddie Russet is on a mission of repentance for causing a ruckus and together with his father is on a journey to make good. They stumble upon an injured Purple man and Eddie’s father, a Swatchman (colour corrector/medic) is on hand to help. They discover that the Purple man is in fact a Grey, an offence that will certainly get the man rebooted/exiled. However the man dies and the Russets are sent to East Carmine, a boarder town where normal city rules don’t seem to apply. Eddie is only a few days away from his Ishihara test (which will set his colour observation ability and signify his introduction to adult society) and pining for his love Constance Garnett, from a higher-hued family, whom he hopes to marry. In East Carmine, Eddie meets a variety of eccentric characters, especially their maid Jane, a Grey with a retroussé nose and a tendency to violence, Tommo Cinnabar, a young man always looking for a deal and Courtland Gamboge, cruel and power hungry son of the Yellow Prefect. And let’s not forget the Apocryphal man who doesn’t fit anywhere on the chromatic scale and is therefore an aberration and does not exist, and thus he walks around naked. Hysterical.

Eddie quickly gets embroiled in the politics of the small and claustrophobic town, making an enemy of Courtland, falling in love with Jane and trying to solve the mystery of the Grey who faked Purple. As he refuses to tow the expected line, Eddie begins to question the rules of his chromatic society, slowly seeing the cracks within his carefully constructed world, he finds himself slowly treading into dangerous territory. Will he find out exactly what’s going on in East Carmine? And will he get his girl before he meets a violent end?

As you can probably tell, this is a hard book to summarise. But I really enjoyed it. It’s not the easiest to get into but you will be rewarded if you persist. And it’s the first in a series. Shades of Grey has been longlisted for the 2011 Warwick Prize for Writing, and I can see why. I’m not sure whether this is a good introduction to Fforde’s fiction if you’ve never read any of his books before. I would probably start with the Thursday Next series or the Nursery Crimes series before attempting this one. It’s just so your mind wouldn’t be too boggled and you’d get a taste of why Ffrorde is so brilliant.

9 Responses to “Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde”

  1. amymckie Says:

    Wow, this sounds very different – the world and the way it is set up is odd! Glad you enjoyed it, I have yet to read anything by this author.

  2. Steph Says:

    I am also a huge Jasper Fforde fan, and I really loved this book as well. I do think that it does require a bit of “brainwork” at the beginning as you figure out the rules of the world he is building and I think the plot takes a while to warm up as a result, but it was so rewarding in the end. I found it quite a bit darker than his other books, but it makes me all the more excited to see what he has in store for us next!

  3. chasing bawa Says:

    amymckie: Fforde’s work is just perfect for literary geeks like myself. He has such imagination and just cracks me up. Can’t wait for you to start reading him:)

    Steph: It did take me a while to get into this book, but maybe also because I was reading something else at the same time. So I’m definitely going to give him ALL my attention on the next book. I agree it was also much darker and I didn’t really know how it was all going to turn out. Some of the characters were properly evil.

  4. I loved the Thursday Next series, Fforde has such a unique view of the world. This has been on my wish list and needs to be promoted to the “want right now” list. Thank you for a great review.

  5. parrish Says:

    Read & reviewed this book, earlier this year, so although I loved it, can also appreciate the difficulty in trying to pin it down, concise enough for others to get it. Which I think you did brilliantly, made it come alive for me again thanks.
    Loved Ilustrado, have almost finished my post
    on it

  6. chasing bawa Says:

    Teresa: Pleasure! I hope you enjoy it. And if you ever get a chance, go and see him talk because he’s a really nice person too.

    parrish: Thank you! But I have to admit I did struggle with describing the book! Will be checking out your post on Illustrado once I’ve finished the book. Am enjoying it tremendously so far.

  7. Kristen M. Says:

    I agree that this one takes a bit of time to get into but pays off for the reader that perseveres. I can’t wait to see where he takes the story.

    I just ordered a new Fforde novel that I didn’t even know existed — The Last Dragonslayer. Have you heard of it yet? I guess it’s not in the US. I had to order from the UK so maybe you’ve seen it? I’m so excited for the new Thursday Next book in a couple of months too!

    • chasing bawa Says:

      I too am really looking forward to the next installment and have no idea where the story will go, which is exciting!

      I have heard of The Last Dragonslayer and I think Gaskella has written a rather nice review of it. I haven’t read it yet but am planning to. I need to pace my Fforde fix;P

  8. […] make the draw next Friday.  Meanwhile you might like to read Chasing Bawa‘s review – Sakura managed to describe the book far better than […]

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