Weekend Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

shades of grey book cover (US edition)

Books about compliance, business ethics, law and financial markets can be well written, interesting and thought-provoking. But they’re not fun.

So I decided I needed change and found a whimsically absurd novel that touches upon compliance: Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde.

Chromatacia is a world where people have limited ability to see color and your standing in the community depends on the colors you can see and how well you can see them. At the top of the social order stand those who see purple. At the bottom are the greys who can’t see any colors. Society is dominated by color and you are what you can see.

The protagonist is Eddie Russert, a red-seeing youth who has been punished with a humility reassignment for a school prank. Eddie is sent out to a fringe city with a “Pointless Task” of conducting of a chair census.

The book is more about a totalitarian regime than compliance. But it’s the rules that run the regime and compliance with rules that keeps society in order.

“But they were the Rules – and presumably for some very good reason, although what that might be was not entirely obvious.” For instance it is forbidden to count sheep, make new spoons or use acronyms. There is also a ban on the numbers between 72 and 74.

“The Rule book tells us precisely what is right or wrong — that’s the point. the predictability of the Rules and the unquestioning compliance and application is the bedrock of —” Eddie is cut off by Jane, a grey in the village of East Carmine. It’s his interest in Jane that sends Eddie on his adventures in Shades of Grey.

Jasper Fforde is probably best known for his Thursday Next series of books where literature has a prominent place in everyday life. Thursday Next herself being in the Literary Detective Division of Special Operations at starts the series by looking into who has stole a manuscript and killed one of the characters in it, changing the story forever. If you enjoyed those books, you will also enjoy Shades of Grey.