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more brilliant Fforde
Shades of Grey, sub-titled The Road to High Saffron, is the eighth novel by Jasper Fforde, and the first novel in the Shades of Grey series. Fforde has used his incredible imagination to create for the reader a unique world, Chromatacia, where residents’ social standing is based on their colour perception. The location is Wales, at least 1200 years into the future, a very regulated world run by the Collective, according to the Rules (the Word of Munsell), with towns administered by Colour Prefects. Residents are identified by their Postcode (embedded into their skin) with most perceiving only a very limited part of the spectrum and having no night vision. The economy is run on merits and feedback is of the utmost importance. Most flora and fauna have a barcode. In this dystopia, Eddie Russett and his father travel from their home in Jade-under-Lime to East Carmine in the Outer Fringes: Eddie to conduct a chair census (as part of learning some humility) and his father as the holiday relief swatchman (a sort of medical practitioner). Eddie soon finds himself: not seeing the last Rabbit; meeting some rather unpleasant Yellows; trying to write decent poetry for his intended, Constance Oxblood; insulted by a certain Jane Grey; trying to rescue a Yellow from the night; travelling in a Ford Model T to the ghost town of Rusty Hill; the captain of the men’s Hockeyball team; unwillingly betrothed to Violet deMauve; falling in love with the aforementioned Jane Grey; uncovering mass murder; and drowning in the digestive juices of a carnivorous plant. As always, Fforde’s plot is highly original and he is inspired when it comes to hilarious names (people, towns, flora and fauna, technological advances and euphemisms). Readers will recognise in Chromatacia (a place where impoliteness and poorly-knotted ties are considered the Mildew of Mankind) the absurdities of our own bureaucracies, politics and everyday life. Fforde hooks the reader into his world so quickly that a sentence like “what would a Grey posing as a Purple be doing in a National Colour Paint Shop in Vermillion?” in the first few pages makes perfect sense. There’s plenty of wordplay in this wonderful social & political satire, an abundance of laugh-out-loud moments, and caution with liquids whilst reading is advised due to possible ambush by phrases like “This box contains two homing slugs”. A favourite quote is “The best lies to tell,” said Jane, “are the ones people want to hear.” This brilliant novel at the other end of the spectrum from Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L.James: it is funny, witty, clever and very imaginative. Readers will look forward to the second novel in this series, Painting By Numbers.