We all know I love Jasper Fforde, the creator of the lovely Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. He writes novels that are ridiculous in just the right range to be delightful and crams in literary and cultural references in places that I did not know such references could exist. If you’ve read and liked his other novels, go read this one. You don’t need any convincing. If you haven’t read his other novels, a) what are you waiting for and b) you are so missing out.
Shades of Grey is the first in a new series with the same name — this one is officially subtitled The Road to High Saffron. In it we meet our hero, Eddie Russett, a “red” who is being sent out to East Carmine to conduct a chair census because he “needs humility,” at least according to the badge he’s required to wear.
I know, I know, you’re like, “Um, a red? A chair census? Wearing a badge that says ‘needs humility’?” And it’s really hard to explain without just quoting the entire book, so go read it! But basically, Fforde has created a world in which people are mostly color-blind — some can see red (and are thus called Reds and get last names that are shades of red), some can see blue, some can see yellow, and some can see combinations of two, but no one can see all three, or even 100 percent of one. And of course some can see so little that they are simply called Greys. As to the chair census, well, this world is governed by about a billionty-six rules (er, Rules) that proscribe everything from the clothes one should wear while travelling to the number of chairs that should be available in a given area (1.8 per person, of course). And when certain Rules are broken, Rule-breakers get to wear a little badge that lets the world know what they’ve done. Wonderful!
Anyway, back to Eddie — he never gets his chair census done because as soon as he arrives in East Carmine, he starts to think weird things might be going on and to ask a lot of questions that let him know that, yes, really weird things are going on. Like, how did his new housemaid, Jane, beat him and his father from Vermillion to East Carmine when they took the train and she didn’t? How did the town Swatchman (read: doctor) manage to fatally mis-diagnose himself, or did he? Are wheelbarrows made of bronze?
So, yes, it’s all insane, but entertainingly so. Eddie is a great character who goes from uptight Rule-respecter (if not -follower) to slightly less uptight Rule-questioner to a man eaten by a yateveo tree, and Jane is just plain awesome with her threats of violence and cynical attitude (and has a cute retroussé nose), and I can’t wait to see what Fforde has up his sleeve for the next two books.
Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.