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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Overcast
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A Book A Week: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I imagine if you are fan of Jasper Fforde, creator of oddball alternate-universe mysteries like the Thursday Next series, you might like his Shades of Grey. Several years ago I tried to read The Eyre Affair and abandoned it in exhaustion. In the intervening years Fforde has cranked out five more Thursday Next books and a couple of Nursery Crime novels, and now he's begun a third series, the first of which is Shades of Grey.

Shades of Grey is part dystopian tale, part social satire, and total fantasy. The world has undergone some unspecified disaster, destroying civilization as we know it and damaging people's ability to perceive color. The society that has evolved organizes people into castes by what colors they can see, and (as you can imagine) some colors confer more status than others. The Purples are at the top of the heap; the Grays are at the bottom.

The world is controlled by the Colortocracy, complete with rigid rules and arcane traditions that combine the worst of North Korea with English public schools. (Prefects are in charge, everyone must play a sport, and there is much singing in praise of someone called Munsell.)

This book is very funny (à la Douglas Adams), but it's also very complicated and difficult to follow. Fforde's world is so enormously complex that huge portions of the book are just explication. The story (about Eddie, a nave Red, and Jane, a subversive Gray) is constantly interrupted in its forward progress by whimsical asides about the black market value of lingonberry jam and the abuse of the color green, for example.

Fforde's total infatuation with his own cleverness is his undoing; in the end I was overwhelmed by detail and lost track of who was who and why it mattered.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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