Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Shades of Grey" by Jasper Fforde

Summary: Eddie Russett lives in a Colortocracy, a future version of our world in which social standing and privilege is based on each person's limited color perception.  In fact, the entire society is based around the pursuit of color--but not at the cost of the numerous, absurd, and inviolable rules of Munsell which guide everyone's life.  Eddie (a red) has been sent to the outer fringes to conduct a chair census as punishment for not showing enough humility to upper colors.  He's dreading the assignment, as it also takes him away from his half-betrothed Constance--a woman he hates, but whose family power will raise Eddie's red bloodline.  But things are done a little different in East Carmine, where he's sent, and when he meets Jane (a grey and of the lowest social standing), questions are raised about the rules and truth of the current society.

Musings:  I'm a big fan of Fforde's Thursday Next series, and I really loved Shades of Grey.  In fact, as difficult as it is for me to say this--considering my devotion to literature and grammar--I think I may have even liked Shades better than the Thursday Next books.

The idea of color as a commodity is really interesting.  We take our ability to see a full range of color for granted, but in this society, when at best people can see most of one type of color, all resources and money are spent towards artificial colorings.  The color-ability affects a range of things, from people's emotions to their inability to see at night.

Shades of Grey has the same absurdist and flippant tone as Fforde's earlier series, and that style works particularly well for this world, which is governed by strict adherence to the rules, regardless of their effectiveness or relevance.  For example, spoons are a huge underground commodity as no spoons are permitted to be manufactured; regular Leapbacks have ensured no new access to cars; citizens must have 1000 merits to marry and are not, under any circumstances, allowed to marry a complementary color.  For anyone who's worked in an office or other environment guided more by protocol and tradition than common sense, the book is especially funny.  But the humor of the rules also belies a more insidious process by which complacency is gained through social pressure.

In fact, what I really liked about the novel was its dystopian feel and message.  It's still silly a lot of the time, but there is also a sincere look at class privileges and ruling through subjugation of dissident ideas (think 1984) that the Thursday Next series doesn't have.  In fact, the ending of the novel was surprisingly serious, and I cared significantly more for the characters as individuals than I did for Thursday or her eradicated husband.

Even though I missed the grammar jokes a bit, I'd highly recommend Shades of Grey to anyone looking for a light style with a serious undertone.


  1. This sounds super interesting! It seems like a nice new take on something that has been played before-- maybe like a Gattica or an Equilibrium only in book form. I also like the author's last name ;p

  2. Definitely in the realm of other classic dystopians, but Fforde's style is so different (think Douglas Adams) than most in that genre that the book comes off different as well. It's a really excellent read!

  3. I´m still waiting for the paperback edition, the wait is killing me ;) I love dstopian fiction, and since you say that you liked the dystopian feel of it, I´m confident I´ll enjoy this book.

  4. I considered waiting to read it since I'm about mid-way through the Thursday Next series, but I'm so glad I didn't. I hope the paperback is coming out soon!

  5. I have this one out from the library, and now I know I must read it. It sounds exactly like the type of absurd-but-interesting tale I'm fond of. Great review!

  6. Oh, good! When I saw your post a day or two ago about liking Lex Trent and the Gods, it immediately made me think of this book--and made me want to try Lex Trent too!