by Jasper Fforde
the world of Shades of Grey is a nightmarish dystopia: a ruthless totalitarian regime that destroys all individualistic spirit, all creativity and ambiguity and questioning of authority; a monstrous government that divides its citizens into color-stratified class/caste systems that is based upon the inherent physical deficiencies of its populace; a place with no love and where death is the end result for the underdog and misfit.
sounds pretty bleak, right? well, dear reader, think again! this rather amazing novel is as light and airy as a souffle, a real pleasure to consume from beginning to end. i was smiling constantly and laughing out loud nearly as often. the tone is brisk and drily amusing. the plot and the various details of our young hero's travails are wonderfully absurd: the punishment for his past cheekiness is to conduct a "Chair Census"; he must beware deadly carnivorous swans and "mega-fauna"; his greatest ambition is to be the head of a String Factory! upstairs from him and his dad lives the "Apocryphal Man" - an historian the state has deemed 'does not exist', and so is free to wander around naked, stealing food, muttering terrifying truths yet remaining unmolested. the love of his life is mean Jane - a Grey, the lowest caste - a rebel with a cause who does not hesitate to punish him drastically whenever he gets in her way.
the writing itself is splendid. Fforde is a deadpan and satirical author with a perfect grasp of what to show, what to tell, what to keep hidden, and what to save for an exciting climax. i was reminded of several things when reading this book: the equally absurd and distinctly provincial post-apocalyptic settings of Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney and Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, and especially the delightful skewerings of english village life within the Mapp & Lucia series of E.F. Benson. much like the latter, the humor within Shades of Grey is derived almost entirely from the Comedy of Manners.
a Post-Apocalyptic Comedy of Manners set within a Provincial Dystopic Colortocracy! how's that for original?
best of all, for me at least, this wonderful novel does not have a genuinely cynical bone in its body. yes, it skewers hypocrisy and stupidity in the most cutting way. yes, it is about a vicious, cruel future. but it also believes in investing its hero and heroine with the power to change themselves, to fall in love, to try to bravely risk changing the world around them. and it portrays all of the good and all of the bad with the lightest, most charming of touches.
i am really looking forward to the sequel!