Shades of Grey [Book Review]

Title: Shades of Grey
Author: Jasper Fforde
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Dystopian
ISBN: 0670019631
Pages: 388
Year: 2009
Publisher: Viking
Source: Dunedin Public Library
Rating: 4.5/5

Plot summary (from Barnes and Noble):

As long as anyone can remember, society has been ruled by a Colortocracy. From the underground feedpipes that keep the municipal park green to the healing hues viewed to cure illness to a social hierarchy based upon one’s limited color perception, society is dominated by color. In this world, you are what you can see.

Young Eddie Russett has no ambition to be anything other than a loyal drone of the Collective. With his better-than-average red perception, he could well marry Constance Oxblood and inherit the string works; he may even have enough red perception to make prefect.

For Eddie, life looks colorful. Life looks good.

But everything changes when he moves with his father, a respected swatchman, to East Carmine. There, he falls in love with a Grey named Jane who opens his eyes to the painful truth behind his seemingly perfect, rigidly controlled society.

Curiosity–a dangerous trait to display in a society that demands total conformity–gets the better of Eddie, who beings to wonder: Why are there not enough spoons to go around? Why is everything–and everyone–barcoded? What happened to all the people who never returned from High Saffron? And why, when you begin to question the world around you, do black-and- white certainties reduce themselves to shades of grey?

Other Books I’ve Read By Author: The Eyre Affair; Lost in a Good Book; The Well of Lost Plots; Something Rotten; Thursday Next: First Among Sequels

Why I Picked Up This Book: I love the Thursday Next series and I was intrigued by the idea of the colortocracy.

My thoughts:

This book was wonderful. I’m not sure I should say this here, but I think I liked it better than the Thursday Next books. The idea is so original yet very simple: a dystopian novel with a hierarchy based on the color you can see.

The people in this world all follow the rules. They don’t make new spoons because the great Munsell has instructed them not to. There are loopholes a plenty to get around the crazy rules, but the rules are followed and generally not questioned. While this seems absurd to me, the girl who has a thousand questions for everyone, our main character, Eddie, is generally happy. This is not a novel where the main character feels oppressed and lost faith in his government ages ago. Eddie is perfectly okay with abiding by all the silly mandates that get tossed his way.

But then he meets Jane. The girl with the adorable nose who threatens to punch him upon meeting.  And Jane forces him to see what’s really out there (although he can still only see it in Red). What he finds terrifies him and changes him and leaves me wanting the rest of the story.

While certainly a dystopian novel, Fforde keeps this one light and funny, only to make it a little darker toward the end. His writing is just as fun as it is in the Thursday Next novels and I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occassion.

This novel is about Eddie’s discovery of himself, his world, and what he must do. While it is a fantastic book, it really just sets up the story in the rest of the series – which I can’t wait to read.

Final question: Where are all the Oranges? [EDIT: I have since found this explanation of the Munsell Color System which explains why there are no Oranges and explains who this Munsell character is.]

Memorable Passages:

I’ve already returned the book to the library, so I can’t pull out my favorite passages, but I will say that I think this has an exceptionally fabulous first line:

“It began with my father not wanting to see The Last Rabbit, and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant.”

Will I Read This Author Again?: Absolutely

Other Reviews:

See addendum to this review here.

16 thoughts on “Shades of Grey [Book Review]

  1. Chrisbookarama February 8, 2010 / 7:21 am

    I liked it more than Thursday Next too and I really liked that series.


    • Michelle February 8, 2010 / 10:01 am

      Whew. Glad no one attacked me over that one.


  2. Cori February 9, 2010 / 11:54 am

    Attack attack attack! 😉

    Actually, I really liked it. Very different (yet somehow similar) to the TN series. I loved them both for different reasons. I also love that you link to other people’s reviews — mind if I borrow that for my blog?


    • Michelle February 9, 2010 / 10:15 pm

      Of course. 🙂


  3. Vishy February 9, 2010 / 2:29 pm

    Nice review! The concept behind the story is quite interesting! I haven’t read any of Jasper
    Fforde’s books before. He seems to be a wonderful writer!


    • Michelle February 9, 2010 / 10:15 pm

      I’m sure you’ll like them if once you get to his books. 🙂


  4. Jo February 9, 2010 / 3:35 pm

    I’ve never read any Jasper Fforde. I keep intending to though. This sounds good, but so do all the others I read about. I’ll have to start somewhere.


    • Michelle February 9, 2010 / 10:14 pm

      I actually think this would be a good one to start with.


  5. BookishlyFab February 9, 2010 / 5:44 pm

    This sounds really interesting! I hadn’t bothered to read the synopsis of it before, but I think I will have to check it out now. The premise sounds really cool.

    I’ve only read The Eyre Affair so far of his, and I just never got around to reading the others in that series.


    • Michelle February 9, 2010 / 10:11 pm

      That’s what happened to me. I hadn’t really read a summary until I saw Emily’s review. And then it was too intriguing to not read.


  6. Ronnica February 10, 2010 / 8:56 pm

    As much as I did enjoy the Thursday Next books (or at least the 3 that I’ve read so far), this blows them out of the water. It has the same humor, but greater meaning.

    I actually didn’t know for certain that this was even dystopian until the end when it was quite clear. I love that he didn’t push that heavily, but still got his point across. Can’t wait for the other books in the series!

    Oh, and one clarification: they didn’t make spoons because it wasn’t on the approved list of tools, obviously an unintended omission. Way worse than not making them because they’re told not to!


    • Michelle February 10, 2010 / 9:00 pm

      You are correct. My mistake. 🙂


  7. Carrie K. February 13, 2010 / 2:07 am

    I just ordered this one – so glad to hear it’s wonderful!


    • Michelle February 14, 2010 / 9:12 am

      I hope you enjoy it!


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