Having delighted in The Well Of Lost Plots, one of Fforde’s earlier books, and having seen the sleeve reviews calling this one a ‘comic genius’ and ‘brilliantly written’ I snapped up Shades Of Grey when it winked at me from the book shelves.
Now here’s the thing. Fforde is brilliant at hooking you in to a story from the first page. He instantly sets up a string of plotlines for which you just crave to know the outcomes. The challenge that follows is that he then spends the rest of the book taking the longest route possible to return to the set-up where you can finally get your answers. Rather like watching Harry Hill live, where he will start a joke and then not return to it until the end of his routine, although with Hill you revel in all the material in between, with this book, you do not.
Shades Of Grey is 432 pages long and Fforde has opted for the smallest font type permitted. The words are tiny. This is long book, it requires vast concentration and frankly becomes extremely frustrating getting anywhere with the plot. There are some people who will love his word play, revel in his detailed cunning, and bask in their own cleverness for finding the whole thing so amusing and highbrow. I am not one of those people. I want a story that will grip me, and force me through the pages at breakneck speed. I’m all for clever language and an imagination that breaks off at quirky tangents, but I like it to stay plot-loyal wherever possible. Don’t get me wrong, concentrating on a book is not a bad thing, but when it becomes hard work, the pleasure is slips away.
This book is so overloaded with puns it actually gets to the point where you stop enjoying them and start numbing them out as you crave a return to the story that, at its core, is actually very enjoyable.
I’m not going to bog you down with the plot, but needless to say, in amongst all these words is a great story. If you can find your way through all the waffle you will find a catchy little everyman tale with heroes and villains and plenty in between. When I did manage to steer my reading through all the cleverness I was hooked…so imagine my despair when, on the very last page, it is revealed that this is book one of a trilogy. The awful thing is, now I have invested all this energy into these characters, I want to see what happens next!