My dryspell is over at last! After several boring, disappointing, and simply "meh" selections, I have come across a solid nominee for the year's top five. This is one of those books I couldn't stop talking about so read it already!
Shades of Grey takes place in the future society of Chromaticia, after an event referred to only as the Something That Happened. Society, or The Collective, is run according to infallible rules set by Chromaticia's founder, Munsell. Not surprisingly, the rules don't always make sense, like why spoons are no longer made, or why bottles and jars are to be manufactured in one size only. There are other mysteries in Chromaticia as well, like why noone can venture into darkness, why all living things have barcodes, and why the two biggest threats to The Collective are swans and lightning.
If I'm starting to lose you, the first thing you need to understand is that a lot of Shades of Grey is tongue in cheek. Fforde is a master of the absurd and sets up a lot of silly situations that, sadly, remind me of work first, then a lot of other things after that. There's a great scene where our narrator, Eddie, goes to a library. Most books have disappeared over time, but due to a poorly drafted directive, staffing levels at libraries will remain unchanged forever. So Eddie is followed by seven librarians who have nothing to do. One, a ninth-generation librarian, shows Eddie empty shelves and describes the books they used to hold. "Murdoch on the Orientated Ex-Best," "The Complete Sheer Luck Homes," and other titles roll from her tongue like a bad game of telephone. Sometimes it's just the titles she gets right, like Catch-22, a "hugely popular fishing book and one of a series."
And we haven't even touched on the Colortocracy. Apparently people's ability to see color is severely limited and people are divided into classes based upon their color perception. If you see mostly red, you are a red. If you see yellow and blue, you are a green. If you see little to no color at all, you are a grey, and the lowest in society. Marriages are arranged based on how one's color perception may help maintain or raise your position in society. Are you a coveted violet who sees closer to the blue range of the spectrum? If so, why not marry a red to deepen your child's violet perception uprange?
Color also plays a role in health and well-being. Depending on your ailment, visualizing a certain shade may make you better...or kill you. Perhaps you need a little pick me up? Try lime, but don't view too much, it's a gateway they say that may lead to the more powerful lincoln green and before you know it, you're chasing the frog...
And I could go on and on. Fforde injects wit, humor, and fun in this story about Eddie Russett, a Red, who travels to the town of East Carmine on an assignment to conduct a chair-census. As Eddie learns about the people of East Carmine, he develops a dangerous habit of curiosity which leads him down a path that's part Alice's trip down the rabbit hole, but more Neo swallowing the red pill, if you ask me.
In all, a slightly slow start (mainly because I had no idea what was going on for the first 30 pages), a great middle, and an end promising two more books to come. And will I read them? Absolutely. I can't wait to see what Fforde has coming out and will make it a point to check out his other books in the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series as well.
For some fun information on Shades of Grey, click here.