Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde

It could be quite difficult to write my book thoughts on ‘Shades of Grey’ by Jasper Fforde. I should instantly clear up the fact that this is not because it’s a difficult book to read, it’s just got such a huge scope. I hadn’t read any Jasper Fforde before I read this novel (although I have wanted too for ages and tried to have ‘The Eyre Affair’ as a choice for an old book group) and so in some ways I didn’t really know what to expect. I did get a whole lot of something that I wasn’t expecting.

In Shades of Grey we meet Eddie Russett who is stuck inside a carnivorous plant that a girl he shouldn’t have fallen in love with, because she is a Grey, has pushed him in. As he contemplates a highly likely death he tells us of the story of how he got there from leaving his home and his “possibly” fiancée Constance and heading away with his father to the Outer Fringes and East Carmine in a dystopian future where people are put in a social order by the colours that they can see, the Russett’s being Reds. However things start to go very strange when Eddie’s father saves a Grey who has disguised himself as a purple and another Grey, Jane, suddenly turns up in his life bringing along a whole heap of adventure that takes us through an amazing landscape and a host of unusual characters and creatures. That sums up the start of the story but there is so much more to the book than just a great premise.

The book is utterly compelling; it’s also bizarre in a brilliant way. It was some of these bizarre things such as the fact that people go to the Emerald City to reboot (too long to explain) that both made me more interested and slightly concerned at the beginning that maybe this wasn’t going to be for me. I was also slightly worried that this was going to just be a rewriting of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but then won’t that happen to any dystopian book initially. Fortunately I soon realised this was nothing like Nineteen Eighty-Four, not because it isn’t as good but because you simply cannot compare the two other than they are both set in a future. Have I mentioned that the book is very, very funny? I wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud and I did quite a lot which only added to my enjoyment. I was happily lost in Jasper Fforde’s world and didn’t want to leave; I am very much looking forward to going back there when the next in the series comes out.

I am still left feeling like I haven’t explained the book enough, but it’s a tough job. As I mentioned this doesn’t mean it’s a tough book and the fact that I was hooked reading it through a bout of lurgy shows that. It was a wonderful and very witty escapist read. It has also left me wanting to read lots more of Jasper Fforde’s work which has been described by Books On The Nightstand (who I might be quoting non stop for while) as ‘literary science fiction’ and sums up Shades of Grey, though if you aren’t a fan of science fiction still give this wonderful book a whirl.

So who else has had a read of this or who really wants to? What other books by Jasper Fforde have you read and would recommend? Finally, which Fforde should I try next the Tuesday Next or the Nursery Crimes series?


Filed under Books of 2010, Hodder & Stoughton, Jasper Fforde, Review

37 responses to “Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde

  1. So pleased that you enjoyed this, Simon! I think it’s a great place to start for readers new to Fforde and/or who perhaps didn’t get on well with his other series. Definitely go for Thursday Next … next! I wasn’t blown away by The Eyre Affair but enjoyed it and persevered then ended up adoring the remainder of the series; the Nursery Crimes books are also good but Thursday Next is fab (besides, there are Mrs Danvers clones and you’re going to love those!)

    I’m looking forward to writing my review of this and to meeting Mr Fforde tomorrow at a signing :). I thoroughly enjoyed Shades of Grey and, as I said at book group, was reminded of Nineteen Eighty Four to begin with but think that’s an occupational hazard when writing Dystopian literature. Fforde revels in literary allusion anyway so it was hardly surprising to be reminded of a few key texts in Shades of Grey but less so than in his other books.

    Pencil The Eyre Affair in for this year seeing as you already own one.

    • I think randomly I have already got all of Fforde’s paperback as I didnt know which one was first and so just got ones as I saw them hahaha I think I gave away some as had doubles. Good thing I liked this one or that would be a load of books leaving the house.

      I hope that you have a lovely time at the signing tomorrow, I am meeting him later in the week so am very much looking forward to asking him lots of questions about the book and all sorts.

      I am still not sure I did the book justice with this review though maybe I just have the lurgy blues or something, it’s also quite hard to explain because his vision is so grand! Hmm, unimpressed with myself today.

  2. I’m envious! Just as I was of Steph when she had the opportunity to meet him. Enjoy!

    I think it’s a difficult book to do justice to but I’m going to try and sum it up the best that I can!

    • Email me if there is a specific question you would like asking and I shall do so especially! I am sure you will have a brilliant time at the signing.

      I bet your review will wipe the floor with mine, looking forward to it!

  3. Kals

    I’d recommend the Thursday Next series, definitely and I totally agree that reviewing Fforde’s books are tough since they have so much to offer!

    I’m waiting to get my hands on Shades of Grey soon 🙂

    • This is my first Fforde so I cant comment on the others but I am really hopeful now. And like Claire said, if there are an army of Mrs Danvers I am going to absolutely adore Thursday next!

  4. lizzysiddal

    I’ll read Shades of Grey sometime in February, just in time to make knowing comment to the author at Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival.

    And I’m going against the grain to recommend the Nursery Crime series …. although you must also read the first 3 Thursday Nexts to get to cleverest ever written … the one in which the cast of Wuthering Heights attend anger management class. Pure genius!

    • lizzysiddal

      There was supposed to be a wink icon after that first comment but it disappeared in the posting. *** Must stop trying all this fancy html stuff. ***

    • I think he is doing lots and lots of festivals and signings etc with this book isnt he?

      Just the idea of sending the cast of Wuthering Heights (despite me loathing that book) to anger management has made me giggle helplessly, I am going to love both these series I think!

      • lizzysiddal

        Don’t care for WH either. But I may one day reread it. I suspect Jasper Fforde’s take on things might change my perspective.

  5. I first have to preface this by saying I am not at all a fantasy/sci-fi reader, however….this is a flaw that I am trying to overcome 🙂

    I read the Eyre Affair last year and while I didn’t love it (due to genre, not any other reason), I didn’t mind it. I love books that are based on other books and take them in an entirely different direction, and that is what held my attention.

    I actually plan to re-read the Eyre Affair this year and then immediately read the second book. I think Claire (in above comment) mentioned that the other books in the series are better than the first.

    • I am keen to try The Eyre Affair and seeing how I fare with it. I am not a big sci-fi fantasy fan and I think Shades of Grey is more sci-fi than the Eyre Affair though I could be very wrong and am no Fforde expert.

      I would recommend this to anyone that doesnt think they like sci-fi I have to say!

  6. I’ve been resisting this one, but what the heck, everyone’s saying good things about it – and I’ve loved the first to Thurs Next ones I read, so I’m going to order it now!

  7. As you know, I’m a big fan of Mr. Fforde… and I have Shades of Grey, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    For some reason, I never read the Nursery Crimes series, not sure why. I’ve read the first 4 Thursday Next books, but have not read #5 yet. I highly recommend the series. It’s full of fun in-jokes for those of us in the know (i.e. book snobs!)

    • and the UK cover is waaaayyyy better than the cluttered US cover.

      • It’s rare that I think a UK cover is better than a USA one but in this case (and The Year of the Flood) I agree!! I wonder if thier is a site where covers are compared. Do you know of one… oooh maybe thats a show brits vs USA ha!

    • Hi Michael, nice to have you back again so soon, and slightly daunting hahaha, I feel humbled.

      I couldnt work out the difference between the series until this one, which looks so different, and so have bought pretty much all of them second had I think so it looks like I have a lot Fforde to look forward too. I am looking forward to the army of Danvers.

  8. fleurfisher

    “It was a wonderful and very witty escapist read. It has also left me wanting to read lots more of Jasper Fforde’s work…” was all I needed to know. The man is quite impossible to summarise neatly, but for me that’s part of the charm. And i have to agree with the prevailing view – go and meet Thursday asap.

    • Glad that that sentence did the trick I was worried it was apost filled with post-lurgy waffle and that would have vexed me no end.

      Definately need to get on the ttrack of Thursday next it would seem!

  9. Simon, the hardest part of reviewing any of Fforde’s books is absolutely the synopsis portion – I reviewed this one professionally, and it was ridiculously hard to give a succinct yet intelligible précis of the plot that wouldn’t scare people off!

    As for which Fforde to read next, I would absolutely say the Thursday Next series is the way to go – vastly superior to the Nursery Crime books in my opinion. I will say that while I do love The Eyre Affair, I think the series itself starts properly in the second book, Lost in a Good Book, so if you read TEA and aren’t completely wowed, stick with the books because they just keep getting better!

    Glad to hear you enjoyed this one! I’m always happy to see others discover (and love) Fforde!

    • Thanks Steph its good to know that there are others out there that also have some issues doing reviews sometimes.I hope I did the book justice as its great.

      I will definately give The Eyre Affair a go in the non to distant future. In fact I will shortly go and dig it out, and I will keep with it!

  10. I’ve just bought this for myself as an early birthday present having enjoyed all the others; pleased to see that I have something so enjoyable to look forward to. I would go with Thursday Next.

    • Thank you very much for the comment Bride of the Book God. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I do feel a bit bad that I have started reading Fforde with his latest book, I feel a bit of a cheat!

  11. I read the Eyre Affair a while ago and I remember enjoying it, but not enough to read anything else in the series. This book sounds really interesting though, I’ll have to give it a try.

  12. Haven’t read this.. but it does look interesting.. perhaps I’ll give it a go.


  13. I read his first two books and rather enjoyed them but have not felt impelled to read any more. Maybe I should give this a go. Hope you are feeling better, by the way.

  14. Sounds like a book that I’d definitely like. I loved 1984, and you make this book sound like, even if it’s not the same, it’s in the same league of awesome-ness.

    I need to find more dystopic titles to read..

    • Hmmmm what other dystopic books can I think of apart from this wonderful one? I would recommend that you give Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, Oryx and Crake or her latest The Year of the Flood a read, oh and Brave New World (I havent but have heard its very good) maybe you could ask everyone for suggestions on your blog Michelle?

  15. I’ve been avoiding your review of this because I haven’t gotten to read it yet but I’m very excited. I’ve read all of his books — some multiple times — and just think he’s brilliant even at his worst, which is never that bad. I always love when someone else finds something to love in his writing. His imagination is so incredibly vast! Here I go, gushing again, but he’s one of the few authors that I really do adore everything he writes.

    • I know what you mean about avoiding reviews when you haven’t quite gotten round to reading the book yourself. You really want to hear what people think and at the same time you dont want to have anything given away.

  16. Danica Rice

    Oh, oh, oh!! I absolutely ADORE Jasper Fforde… I have read most except the last two, or three of the Thursday Next books, and they are INCREDIBLE. I’ve only read one of his Nursery Crime books, but it was good too… I didn’t even KNOW about Shades of Grey!! Thank you, thank you!!!!!!!

    • This was my first experience of Fforde but definately won’t be my last. It seems that there are tonnes of you who think that he is utterly brilliant which is a good sign with regard to his other series that I have yet to read!

  17. Pingback: The Suicide Shop – Jean Teulé « Savidge Reads

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