Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
I've been listening to the audio version of Shades of Grey for the past couple of weeks. I am a huge Jasper Fforde fan so one can imagine how much I was looking forward to a new book from him, especially one not from his Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series. My favorite thing about Fforde is his seemingly boundless imagination and I was eager to see what new world he dream up as a setting for this new novel.
I have to admit that I wasn't sure I'd like Shades of Grey when I first started it. First off, protagonist and narrator Eddie Russett begins the story by announcing that it will end with him being eaten by a carnivorous tree (even if I haven't gotten to know and like Eddie yet, I definitely don't want to know how the story will end). It's also a bit slow to start. This new world is complex and at the beginning you are thrown into it and need to get your bearings while not missing any important detail. But, the further I got into the novel, the more I liked it. I can see Shades of Grey as the first in a series of books set in this new world and I hope that Fforde gives them to us.
Fforde's books are a bit difficult to explain and Shades of Grey is no exception. It takes place in a dystopian future, in which society is regulated by the Colortocracy, a rigid social stratification system in which classes (and relative place within classes) are based on individuals' color perception. Eddie wants nothing more than to take the exam that establishes once and for all his place within the social hierarchy, marry Constance Oxblood (a match that will help his family progress up the chromatic scale), and become productive member of society. Everything changes for him when he commits a prank and is sent to the Outer Fringes to conduct a chair census as punishment. Away from the urban centers, the rules seem to make less sense.
While there is humor in Shades of Grey, it is definitely not a zany as his other novels. It's also more thought-provoking.