Jasper Fforde – Shades of Grey

Three things to start with …

  2. No it’s not 50 Shades of Grey, but an indeterminate number of shades!

I actually read Shades of Grey last year, and have been meaning to post about it for ages. It’s one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read in many a year! Why don’t you read this book!? Indeed son#1 did on my recommendation, and he enjoyed it too!

I discovered Jasper Fforde a few years back. I was a looking for an author with clever and considered wit similar to Douglas Adams, and Fforde was highly recommended. I monstered my way through the excellent and fun Thursday Next series, followed by the equally excellent and fun Nursery Crime series. Not sci-fi per se, but cleverly imagined inventive alternative realities with great comedy too. I probably expected more of the same when I started Shades of Grey, but I couldn’t have been more wrong – a totally different string to Fforde’s already beautifully crafted bow!

Shades of Grey starts with that trick that I recently mentioned in my post on William Gibson’s The Peripheral. Thrown straight in at the deep end in a future with no introduction, I spent the first few chapters trying to work out what the hell was going on! Plenty was immediately recognizable and whilst nothing was fundamentally alien, nothing was quite right too! What events had led to this future and most importantly its new social structures? You never do find out exactly what cataclysmic “something that happened” in the past changed the world thus, but you do get various snippets anchored around the incremental outlawing of technology invented/created prior to a series of ever earlier periods with an implied dictatorial (albeit in the form of a “collective”) leadership and clear rules not to be broken. Most importantly you never find out what happened to alter humans in such a simple but profound way, though the result of that alteration is absolutely the heart of this future society! Forget -isms based on race, religion or sexual orientation, in this world it’s all about the now vastly limited set of colours that each individual can perceive and the social hierarchy that results. In a world in which nobody can seemingly see all, some colours are “higher” than others, “mixing” between particular colours a thing of scandal, and those who can see none the lowest of the low greys!

I’ve probably already said too much, so enough of the plot! The core characters are totally believable and very quickly you’re seeing this world through the eyes and experiences of the protagonist Eddie Russett. The ins-and-outs of daily life; love and hatred; discovery of at least some of the terrible truth. A year after reading it, my memory of that future world is still totally vivid as if I was really there, unlike the vast majority of the many books I’ve read since!

So my advice is for everybody to read Shades of Grey, but just to get you ready for the only disappointment – upon completion I of course rushed to see if Jasper Fforde had written any more books to follow it, only to discover hoards of disappointed readers! He fully intends to write a sequel, but given his other busy series, it simply hasn’t happened yet!