Between the Covers

Shades of Grey

Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is a master at creating entire fictional worlds. Shades of Grey is the first in a new series set in a futuristic society, which is run strictly to a set of usually ridiculous rules that are not allowed to be questioned.

I couldn’t wait to read this book because I adore Fforde’s previous two series, where literary detective Thursday Next romps through Book World, fighting the good fight, and Nursery division investigator Jack Spratt always gets his man (or egg or whichever Nursery rhyme character dunnit).

Shades of Grey is a departure for Fforde; so much so that he acknowledges a long list of supporters for helping him through a difficult process.

Fforde is a former screen-writer and this book almost reads like a screenplay; I suspect it would make a funny and interesting TV series, as long as it wasn’t made in Hollywood where they would destroy any semblance of nuance.

Shades of Grey was interesting but I also found it pretty hard-going. Fforde has moved squarely into science fiction and fantasy with this novel and it’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous books, although thankfully his finely tuned sense of the ridiculous is still firmly intact. His previous series owed a lot to Douglas Adams, whose background in radio and TV helped him write really snappy and hilarous dialogue, as does Fforde.

Fforde goes into some pretty deep territory, exploring moral dilemmas about the good of society, the rights of the individual, the way we look at sex and relationships, social strata, honesty, love and family.

One of the aspects of sci-fi is that you have to set the scene and that can take a while; if you’re describing a fantasy world then you need to explain to the reader exactly how that works (that’s one of the reasons sci-fi novels are often as thick as the Yellow Pages and written in dense 6 point print and seem to breed in trilogies). There’s a lot of detailed explanation about Chromatica, the world Fforde has invented in which people’s lives are controlled by which and how much colour they can see and society is run by the Colourtocracy.

Through those tinted lenses Shades of Grey is above all else a love story: a tale of how, when you’ve found the right person, it can make you do extraordinary things and find strength and bravery you didn’t know you had.

This was an interesting and thought-provoking read; I did find it was one of those books where I was occasionally turning back to re-read sections and make sure I’d understood but now that I do, I await the next (I wonder if it will come out on a Thursday...) with interest.

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