Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde // An Unknown Genre

When I got back from the library with this book, my mom glanced at the title and said, "Is this that horrible book...?"
No, this is Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, where the amount of shades is not specified in the title. :-)

I recently discovered Jasper Fforde through his book The Eyre Affair, and wanted to read more of his work. Though The Eyre Affair is part of the Thursday Next series (which I will read in due course), I ended up reading Shades of Grey first - completely unrelated to the Thursday Next books. It is about an alternate universe where your station in life and rank in society is determined by the colors that you can see. I am always intrigued by imaginative plots and situation such as this one, so I was very excited to read this book. And after reading The Eyre Affair, I had already fallen in love with Fforde's descriptive, humorous, and simple style of writing. 

While we're on the topic of writing style, I would like to make a side note. This book (as are any of Fforde's) is definitely PG rated, if not almost on the R border. This is mainly for language, as the F-word pops up a few times, and in The Eyre Affair, there is a fellow named Mr. Schitt (This is joked about numerous times, as you may guess). There is some "questionable content," including the whole "sleeping with someone before you are married" thing, but it's pardonable, because Fforde doesn't make any statements about values or principles or morality. He's not glorifying situations nor condemning them. It's just part of the plot, which is intended for more mature audiences. He writes candidly, without unnecessary detail. 

Alright. Onward.

I really enjoyed how Fforde managed to weave in the culture of the land of Cromatacia (an alternate UK) without stating it outright. The oft-referenced writer's maxim states, "Show, don't tell," and Fforde does this with glorious results. As I said, the best description of his writing is candid. It's just so clear and straightforward.
There is one thing that really, really bugged me about this book - the ending. Since The Eyre Affair ended rather satisfactorily, despite having a sequel, I thought that Shades of Grey would, too. 
It's a decent ending, but not satisfactory at all. There is promise of two more books in the series (Shades of Grey 2: Painting by Numbers, and Shades of Grey 3: The Gordini Protocols), but they aren't published yet. So I suppose my one problem with the book isn't really a problem, but proof of the quality of the book. If Shades of Grey weren't as good as it is, I wouldn't be so antsy to read the next one. Because I generally read so many classics, I am unused to having to wait for a book to come out. A few years back, I thought I'd like to write a letter to one of my favorite authors, but I realized - all my favorite authors were dead. So I take for granted that when I finish one book in a series, the next will be right there for me at the library. I guess I'm going to have to get used to waiting if I'm going to be reading more contemporary books.

An interesting mental exercise is trying to classify this book in a particular genre. Is it fantasy? It does have some fantastical elements, but I wouldn't call it straight-out fantasy. Perhaps it's more satire. Again, it does have elements of satire, but it isn't completely satire. At first I thought to call it that new pseudo-genre of "Apocalyptica" that is sweeping young-adult literature (think Hunger Games, and Divergent). But it's not exactly that either, perhaps for the reason that it's definitely not "teen" reading. The only way to classify the Shades of Grey (or any of Fforde's work, as a matter of fact) is as "un-classable." It's a melding of various genres, and doesn't conform to any one in particular. I've never really come across anything quite like it.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it - but only to a certain sort of reader. Someone who doesn't mind a bit of fantasy melded with a bit of satire melded with a bit of romance melded with a bit of mystery.

And somewhat on topic, here is an interesting quote:

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