It was not a month ago that I finished my last Jasper Fforde book, and was bemoaning the lack of further work by him to read. So I was more than delighted to have the opportunity to read his latest book.
This is the first book in another new series. I spend the first thirty pages of a Jasper Fforde series undergoing severe cognitive dissonance - or to put it another way, wondering what the heck is going on. The next thirty pages are spent thinking something like: "Hmm. Let's run with this a little further." And the rest of the book (and indeed, subsequent books in the series) passes by in an increasingly addicted scamper.
The plot of "Shades of Grey" moves Fforde firmly in the direction of Science Fiction, rather than the kind of literary fantasy that constitutes the The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next) and The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime) series, and the scope of the work is also bigger. We find ourselves in a future world, in which people have limited colour perception, and this is what determines their social standing. Edward Russett, a young man who is yet to take his place in society, finds himself struggling to accept the status quo, and as the book develops, we start to learn some sinister facts. Think of "Nineteen Eighty Four", "The Matrix" or "Brave New World", but with a lighter touch.
It isn't hard to read into "Shades of Grey" a parable of modern societies - it is well worth thinking through the implications of intolerance, racism and the priority of the system above individuals as you read the book. It is populated by authentic characters - and as with the earlier series, the principle actors are extraordinarily sympathetic.
There are few writers who, to my mind, come up with such complex and coherent imaginary universes - as with the other series, the divergence with the real world is radical, and yet seemingly consistent on the deepest levels. Fforde has been compared with Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll, but to my mind, although they have their place, he surpasses them on a literary level. I can't wait to see how this series develops. (And I'm looking forward to hearing more about Thursday Next, as well!)
Unfortunately, now I've finished my last Jasper Fforde book, and have no further work by him to read....