Books Read 2011: Jasper Fforde - Shades of Grey

Years ago a good friend visited me in Copenhagen and somehow persuaded me into reading The Eyre Affair, an obscure first novel by a British writer. I had misgivings but my friend has good taste in things. Like countless others before and after me, I loved the book and Jasper Fforde is not an obscure author any more. He is more like a cult phenomenon - much in the same way as Terry Prachett (of whom I've never been a fan, incidentally) and Monty Python (who I love) he inspires devotion and fanaticism. You bond with other people over his books. You give them to friends and hope they'll come back laughing hard. Having said that, the Thursday Next novels which started with The Eyre Affair were a case of diminishing returns after the first three books and I never got into his follow-up series, Nursery Crimes. My interest in reading Shades of Grey was the unlikely combination of my friend Kirsten loving it and Adam Roberts calling it a failed high-concept sci-fi book (Pot Kettle Black, Mr Roberts). Shades is a more serious, darker book than what I expected from Fforde. Okay, so his dystopian vision is still filled with silly puns and comic asides, but the world is a sinister place where nasty things do happen to good people. The book is also more science fiction than his previous books (which were pomo-literary-comic-fantasy-detective-thriller-fiction) which is particularly noticeable in its world building. However, I wish I had known that Shades is the first of three novels, so I could have understood its pacing a lot better. The extensive world building takes up almost 2/3rds of the novel and the plot does not unfold until very, very late.

So, I had a mixed reaction to Shades of Grey but I know I shall be reading the next two novels in the series because I do love a good dystopian novel and the plot set-up is really quite intriguing even if I had to read 250+ pages about The National Colour Grid, the importance of maintaining a colour dynasty, beigemarket dealings in colour swatches, and homing slugs.