In which I decide that if I was a color, I’d be a shade of Blue
Title: Shades of Grey
Author: Jasper Fforde
What it’s about: In Shades of Grey, status is determined by which part of the color spectrum you can see; Purples are the highest, ruling class, while the no-status Greys make up the bulk of the workforce. Eddie Russet is able to see Red, the lowest on the color spectrum (but still a Prime, which does count for something as he points out). He plans to marry into the prestigious Oxblood family and spend his life following the Rules of politeness, developing a patented system for queueing, and (if he can pass the rigorous color exam) selling synthetic hues for National Color. But his plans start to unravel when he falls for a Grey, even though she does try to kill him, twice.
This book was an absolute treat. I have to admit, I’m a little biased because I love Jasper Fforde. He’s written two other series, Thursday Next and Nursery Crime, both of which tell whole new stories (or one might say the real stories) about famous book characters like Jane Eyre or Humpty Dumpty. His books are always extremely witty and fast-paced. The society in Shades of Grey is supposed to exist about 800 years after our own, so tantalizing fragments of the past still exist and the book is peppered with clever word puzzles and weird inventions. The premise reminded me of The Giver, with a little Brave New World thrown in, but with Fforde’s distinct absurdist style all the way through.
This book made me want to learn more about: Color, obviously! I thought I was pretty good with color words, but Fforde’s vocabulary of colors far exceeds my own. Have you ever seen Lincoln? It’s a green. Brunswick (also green)? Gamboge (a yellow)? Fandango is not just a place where paper bag puppets sell movie tickets; it’s also a purple! Unfortunately, this is one case in which computer research really isn’t that helpful. Fforde has a page on his Website that tries to approximate some of the shades mentioned in the book, but as he himself acknowledges, the way you see a color on a computer is not at all the way it would appear in real life. Even if your screen is set to display millions of colors and perfectly calibrated, it still wouldn’t be just right. What you need is a pantone book, which are used by designers when selecting colors. Luckily for me, I just happen to have one available for my own use, but if you can’t find one at your local library or a used bookstore, I think the paint chip section at Home Depot might be the next best thing!
Bonus Features: Fforde has the best author website I’ve ever seen, so you should definitely check it out after you read the book! He adds bonus features for all his books, including deleted scenes, Q&As, images, T-shirts, contests, quizzes, and all kinds of funny extras.
Would I recommend? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Fforde is my favorite author (please don’t tell the others!) and this book is the start of a great new series for him. Artists and designers will find all the color-related puns particularly funny.