as most of you well know (since i have been bragging about it for days), i found a copy of the yet-to-be-released jasper fforde novel, shades of grey. i'm not sure why its available here, and i especially dont understand why its available in paperback, something that may be years away in western markets. (actually, now that i think about it, i dont remember seeing any hardcovers in the store. i'll have to check this next time) anyway, at 400 odd pages it took me about 2.5 days to read, pretty average for a fictional page-turner for me.
the first thing that jumped out at me was how similar in style, story, and feel it was to the 1884 satyrical novel flatland by edwin abbott abbott. similar daffy yet likeable protagonist, similar social hierarchy, in flatland based on shape, and in shades of grey on color perception. sofg actually seemed a bit more like the flatland film than the movie, but im a little sketchy on seperating the two, so i could be mistaken. anyhow, the sofg had a very familiar feel about it, so much so that i went online, while careful to read no spoilers, tried to find out if fforde referenced abbotts work as an inspiration/influence for his own. he did not. hm.
okay, on to the characters. i said before that the protagonist was likeable, but i really mean he is not unlikeable. i myself didnt particularly like him. and i ususally LOVE the protagonists from ffords novels. the brash and hot-headed thursday next, or the always downtrodden yet dependable jack spratt. both of these characters have their flaws, but are strong and true, and will usually make the selfless decision. they are more than characterizations, they are rich and complex, you care about their reputations, their futures, and it sounds hokey, but their lives. those are two of my favorite characters in british lit, because i feel they earn it, you go through all the trials with them, feeling their frustrations, reveling in their success. in ffords first two series where these characters are featured (fforde is a serial writer), i love the protagonists, villans, friends, even the side characters. reading his books are like a little view into how i hope i would carry myself in hilariously dangerous situations (i am going to be posting an old review of ffordes work now that i've gone on so much about it). now, the protagonist from sofg. hm, what to say. he's a slightly bumbling though mosty good-natured sap that lets himself get taken advantage of over and over again. he can (and does) prove himself to be, if not a hero, than hero lite. he's got a strong woman to back him up (all of ffords novels feature strong, outspoken women), but even she falls a little flat. one of the reasons it is harder to identify is that athough ffordes first two series take place in odd worlds (one jumping in and out of literature, the other in a world of nursery rhyme characters), the same basic set of world-views apply. people can still be kind or murderous, forthright or devious, and they are always aware of the world around them. but the world built in sofg is something that we cant really relate to, a dystopia that follows such bizarre rules, it is unknowable, unreachable. and this is okay if the piece is a commentary on social hierarchy, as flatland is. i didnt identify with the character in flatland, but i wasnt really meant to. i mean, he was a two dimensional square. as much as i can, i dont REALLY know what it would feel like to be 2D. And even closing my eyes, imagining his world, i still wouldnt know his feelings, or care all that much actually. its much the same for the main character here, eddie. he is gullible, naive, and a bit of a whinger (i love the word whinger btw, i cant stop using it instead of whiner after listening to gervais' podcasts). i never really cared what decisions he made, because he just annoyed me to much. and the transformation that his love interest jane goes through is much too abrupt, it seemed dishonest to her character, and to the reader.
as far as the story goes, its okay enough, but i dont want to spoil it. just know that its an entertaining enough read, but dont expect the magic and fantastic wordplay that jasper fforde gave us in his previous series. ill probably read the next in line when it comes out, but i'll borrow it from the library or something. and for me to not NEED to own the book, like a need that makes me sweat and pant in the bookstore, thats saying something. but it still better than 80% of the tosh out there, so you might want to give it a try.