Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde

One of the things I liked most about this book (and there are a lot of things to like about this book) is that even though it's really damn funny, the people in it act like people.

Eh, you say? What else are they going to act like, goats? Well, now, think about it. How often does the humour in "funny" books depend on the characters acting in ways that people normally wouldn't, or taking normal reactions and hugely exaggerating them? "It's only a flesh wound" is funny because it's not only a flesh wound, and a normal person would be quite upset about it.

Not that I'm claiming to be any huge expert on humourous books or anything. Quite the opposite- Pratchett aside I don't really read any. Because my enjoyment of a book is directly linked to how invested I am in the characters, and it's hard for me to get invested in characters in "funny" books.

But, Shades of Grey. Funny. Like, really funny. Really, really funny and packed full of characters you can get behind. People that, like I said, actually act like people. It's impressive how well it works. The book has a ridiculously bizarre and awesome set up. It's set a really, really long way into our future and something has happened to really mess up the colour spectrum. People are born being able to see only one colour naturally (and some can see more of it than others), and just looking at combinations of colours can have harmful or healing effects. And people, being people, go on and divide  themelves into groups defined by who can see what colour, predicatably treating those who can see only grey like lesser beings.

That's pretty much the theme of this book. No matter how out there the situation, people are still going to act like shitty, selfish, occasionally heroic people. Fforde doesn't need to twist his characters into caricatures of humanity for his humour to work, he understands that humanity "as is" is already pretty funny. And by keeping his people "real" if you like, (how many "quote marks" can I cram into one review anyway?) it creates this really awesome contrast to the seriously nuts setting of the book.

And the amount of though Fforde put into this crazy set up is just astounding too. I've said this before: a good author can make you believe anything, a bad author will have you doubting everything. I really thing that Shades of Grey might be one of the most original books I've read, but also one of the easiest to accept, if you know what I mean.

And here we are, nearly at the end of my review, and I've barely touched on what normally I don't shut up about: the main characters! Let's just say they're great, all of them. Witty and flawed and sometimes selfish and sometimes not- in other words all the things you want your characters to be. There's a romance that doesn't go how I thought it would (and I have no idea where it will go in the sequels) and a really touching father/son relationship. And a shortage of spoons.

Shades of Grey is a book I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to someone who loved humorous novels, but I would also recommend it to people who don't. It's just a really great book.

I bought this book

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