Shades of Grey

Don’t read Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey if you dislike offbeat science fiction. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf come to mind…although Fforde’s novel is a bit more down-to-earth, so to speak. Maybe it should be considered fantasy, like his Nursery Crimes series. But it’s a bit more like his Thursday Next series.

All right, all right, we can’t pin down its genre. That’s one of the appeals of Shades of Grey, which takes place in a near-future earth where everyone has become at least partially color-blind, and the extent to which one can see colors determines one’s social status. In particular, people who are totally color-blind form the lowest class; the next class up contains those who can see red, and then orange, and then yellow, and so on up the spectrum. Everything in society is based on which colors you can see and how well you can see them, so the Ishihara naturally becomes the gatekeeper to a young person’s future as an adult.

But the role of color isn’t the only peculiarity of this society. I’ll leave you the pleasure of discovering the other peculiarities by yourself; suffice it to say that “the number between 72 and 74” has been banned, as has the manufacturing of spoons. If this combination seems unbearably bizarre to you, then don’t read the book. And if you expect to read it and then understand why these peculiar rules exist…well then, don’t read the book. But if you’re willing to buy into some unusual premises and want to enjoy an exciting roller-coaster ride through a society that’s not our own — though in some ways it is, of course — then do read Shades of Grey. It will richly reward you.

Categories: Books