Jan 3, 2010

Monkey droppings - Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde: "Once monochrome fundamentalism gets a hold, it can be hard to eradicate."

Today, the monkey weirds out on the future of mankind.

I'm a'scared, I tells ya!

Shades of Grey
by Jasper Fforde
Penguin Group (Canada), 2009
The known had been so long dwarfed by the unknown that confusion was an easy bedfellow.
It has been a boon time for purveyors of post-apocalyptic fictions. Margaret Atwood has received plaudits for The Year of the Flood, Cormac McCarthy saw his Road hit cinemas, and all told, there is a bleakness that translates well into artistic expressions of mankind’s prospects.

However, nothing says humanity’s downfall can’t provide some laughs along the way. And as the decade wends its way to a close, Jasper Fforde has decided that his depiction of a brave new world will be a bit more overtly entertaining than is the norm; think Aldous Huxley by way of Douglas Adams.

Shades of Grey begins a new series for the Welsh author, best known for his riotously funny Thursday Next novels. Set in a future “Colortocracy” where one’s place depends on one’s ability to perceive colors, Grey is a complex tale of mystery, irony, and clever humour that highlights Fforde’s gift for literary wit and fantastically goofy plotlines.

Fforde’s story begins over four hundred years after the Something That Happened, and humankind, strangely affected with variations of colorblindness, now functions as a rigid caste society. Edward Russett is a Red, a servant of the Collective who distinguishes shades of red far better than others.

It is a world where color is everything, and all civilization goes atwitter over the release of a new “shade of yellow that would give bananas chromatic independence from lemons and custard.”

To keep society in Stasis, the “Word of Munsell,” a strict set of Rules, has been set in place. “[The Rules] were sometimes very odd indeed: The banning of the number that lay between 72 and 74 was a case in point, and no one had ever fully explained why it was forbidden to count sheep, make any new spoons or use acronyms.”

Edward’s life, heretofore unremarkable, becomes rather more complicated when he meets Jane, a Grey who refuses to know her place. As he slowly uncovers some truths about the past (which otherwise remain tantalizing unclear), he finds that his new knowledge puts him at odds with some very powerful individuals who would do anything to keep the Stasis in place.

Much as in Fforde’s Thursday Next stories, Shades of Grey revels in a world as bizarre and unexplainable as it is a joy to visit. His future, a domain where love is secondary to acceptable color marriages and swan attacks often turn deadly, is at once gloriously elaborate and completely implausible, yet somehow always believable within the confines of the page.

Fforde has a fine ear for turning dialogue into giddy flights of lunacy, sometimes recalling Monty Python routines at their most absurd. This may sometimes occur at a cost to plot, but Fforde is a fine fantasist, and his flights of surreal wit only serve to heighten the monstrous amounts of pleasure he ladles out for the reader.

There are myriad delights to be discovered within Shades of Grey, far more than can be adequately described in a review. To put it bluntly, the first novel in Fforde’s new series is as warped and peculiar as anything he has written to date, which bodes very well for the sequels.


Originally published (expurgated version) in the Winnipeg Free Press, January 2, 2010.


Alison said...

I am so excited for this book! I've been excited, just because it's Jasper Fforde, since before I even knew what it was about, but your description makes it sound even more enticing than I imagined!

Jeanne said...

I didn't know this could be a good antidote to reading The Road! Who better than FForde to throw his hat into the post-apocalyptic ring now that it's become so popular?

Heather said...

Great review. rather a cool book.

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