Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: Shades of Grey

After reading a few "traumatizing to children" books, book club decided to pick a humourous book for January. We all came up with suggestions, voted, and the winner was...

Shades of Grey
By Jasper Fforde
2009
400 pages

Where do I start? Eddie Russet and his father are on their way to East Carmine, a far away outpost, and thus not really a trip they'd like to go on. As Russets, they see the world as grey, except for red colours. In East Carmine, we meet other "colourful" characters, the yellows, greens, blues, oranges and purples, including the greys - those people who can't see colour at all and are lowest on the social status system. As Fforde continues to build his world, we learn about the cult of Munsell, the social caste system, and the weird ways of the world. But all is not as it seems, and Eddie and his cranky, and somewhat violent maid Jane are on the trail to uncover details that will upset the colour balance - if they can avoid the corrupt bullies and stay alive long enough!

Bad summary, I know, but this book is hard to explain. Parts of this book are very clever. The whole colour viewing social system creation of Fforde's is super neat, and the weird slightly off throw backs to our world added to the neatness. He definitely has created an interesting world, so props for the world building. In the end, I never really knew if the people were people or robots or what. This book would probably make a good movie as it's very visual based. I might tune in.

But contrary to why we chose it, I didn't find this book funny, at least not "laugh out loud" or even "smirk" or "chuckle quietly to myself" funny. The humour is more...British I guess, very reminiscent of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker, Terry Pratchett's DiscWorld, or obviously Fforde's Thursday Next series. So not funny but peculiar. Which is good if that's what you're after. Not sure that's what I was after. Also it was quirkily gorey (lot's of dead bodies), which I wasn't expecting.

There were a few things that disappointed me about this book. First, I realized after I'd finished that it was a dystopian novel. Duh. Of course. Why didn't I realize that straight away: the clues are obvious from the beginning? The reason this is disappointing is I HATE dystopian stories. And this goes a long way to explaining why I just couldn't like the book. Secondly, I found out after that it's the first of a trilogy, which is disappointing because I didn't like the book and don't want to read more but there are unresolved plot issues, which is super annoying. Near the end I could tell he was setting it up for more. Not like reading a series is bad, but he hasn't even written the other two books (which I wont read, but might look up a plot summary on the interwebs, if I even remember this book was a thing by the time he publishes more). Finally, I hated the two twists at the end. It was that feeling where you'd read all the way through the book and then he throws a curve ball which you hate so much it made you wish you hadn't read the first 300-some pages. Just disappointing and sad. But I guess there are no happing endings in dystopia. Especially when there's still two books to come in a trilogy.

In case you can't tell, I didn't really like the book. Sure, it was clever - the whole colour viewing caste system was unique. And the parallels to our world, the inside jokes, some of those were clever as well. But overall, I found I didn't really get to love the characters, and this combined with the disappointing ending, well, yeah. Not a complete waste of time but similar to previous book club choices (The Wonder, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend) this book was disappointing in the end. Maybe reading it after the fantastic All the Light We Cannot See was a bad idea, or maybe the book is just meh. I really enjoyed Fforde's Thursday Next series and will probably reread it one of these days, but I'm passing on his Shades of Grey universe.

The internet loves this book though, so you might too. If you like clever not-overly-violent dystopia, pick it up.