Glad I’ve finally come around to Jasper Fforde. Lumped into something like a royal triumvirate of wacky British satirists that include Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, Fforde has been constantly recommended by legions of fellow geeks-in-the-know, though I’ve been wary. Wary because just a little of the former goes a long way, and overload can swiftly ensue. Don’t get me wrong, the authors are great and genre-bending, but the story can get often lost in the wit.
So unconsciously or not, I may have been looking for a reason not to like Fforde. Giving Shades of Grey a try, I’ve come away appreciative and challenged in many respects. Yes, Fforde’s detached cleverness is distinctly overwhelming, and while my irritation with the work was that it contained 3/4 clever dialogue opposed to the 1/4 action/plot oriented writing I waited for, I’m glad to have pushed through, for what had emerged was not only a typically wry tongue-in-cheeker, but a more nuanced approach in post-apocalyptic/dystopian musings.
Pointless to give the details really, because Fforde plays his cards fairly closely; he loves to preserve the mystery, you see, as this is but part one of more to come. The setting is ambiguous, though presumably in the distant future. Color perception has divided humanity into its own social hierarchy, very interestingly I might add, and perception as we all unfortunately know, is everything. As are spoons, loganberry jam, and the semi-invisible apocryphal people who occasionally tinkle wisdom upon dinner parties as well as just tinkle upon themselves. But Fforde spends the majority of this work detailing the hierarchy among the colors, as seen through red-tinged eyes of swatchman-son Edward Russett’s introduction to and subsequent manipulation within the Outer Fringes, and maybe even to the perilous reaches of High Saffron.
Patience pays off for the determined reader in Shades of Grey. In itself it’s a rewarding read written in the ham-on-wry tradition, but ultimately proves quite a thought-worthy and perplexing commentary on color and how we view ourselves, filtered through a sci-fi monocle.