Excerpt from Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Shades of Grey

by Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2009, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt


“The eyes are very large and humanlike for a pig,” said my father, peering closer. “And I’ve seen a number of bears in my life, but none of them wore a hat.”

“They were very big on anthropomorphism,” I ventured, which was pretty much accepted fact. The Previous had many other customs that were inexplicable, none more so than their propensity to intermingle fact with fiction, which made it very hard to figure out what had happened and what hadn’t. Although we knew that this bronze had been cast in honor of Oz, the full dedication on the plinth was badly eroded, so it remained tantalizingly unconnected to any of the other Oz references that had trickled down through the centuries. Debating societies had pondered long and hard over the “Oz Question,” and published many scholarly tracts within the pages of Spectrum. But while remnants of Tin Men had been unearthed by salvage teams, and Emerald City still existed as the center of learning and administration, no physical evidence of brick roads had ever been found anywhere in the Collective, either of natural or synthetic yellow— and naturalists had long ago rejected the possibility that monkeys could fly. Oz, it was generally agreed, had been a fiction, and a fairly odd one. But in spite of that, the bronze remained. It was all a bit of a puzzle.

After that, we paused only briefly to look at the exhibits in the museum, and only those of more than passing interest. We stopped and stared at the collection of Vimto bottles, the preserved Ford Fiesta with its obscene level of intentional obsolescence, then at the Turner, which Dad thought “wasn’t his best.” After that, we made our way to the floor below, where we marveled at the realistic poses in the life- size Riffraff diorama, which depicted a typical Homo feralensis encampment. It was all disturbingly lifelike and full of savagery and unbridled lust, and was for the most part based upon Alfred Peabody’s seminal work, Seven Minutes among the Riffraff. We stared at the lifeless mannequins with a small crowd of schoolchildren, who were doubtless studying the lower order of Human as part of a Historical Conjecture project.

“Do they really eat their own babies?” asked one of the pupils as she stared with horrified fascination at the tableau.

“Absolutely,” replied the teacher, an elderly Blue who should have known better, “and you, too, if you don’t respect your parents, observe the Rules and finish up your vegetables.”

Personally, I had doubts about some of the more ridiculous claims regarding Riffraff. But I kept them to myself. Conjecture was a dish mostly served up wild.

As it turned out, the phonograph would not be demonstrated, because both it and the music disc had been put “beyond use” with a very large hammer. This wasn’t a result of mischief, but a necessary outcome of Leapback Compliance issues, as some fool hadn’t listed the device on this year’s exemption certificate. The staff at the museum seemed a trifle annoyed about this, as the destruction of the artifact reduced the Collective’s demonstrable phonographs to a solitary machine in Cobalt’s Museum of the Something That Happened.

“But it wasn’t all bad,” added the curator, a Red with very bushy eyebrows.

“At least I can lay claim to being the last person ever to hear Mr. Simply Red.”

After giving detailed feedback, we left the museum and headed off toward the Municipal Gardens.


We paused on the way to admire an impressive wall painting of great antiquity that was emblazoned across the gable end of a brick house. It invited a long- vanished audience to “Drink Ovaltine for Health and Vitality,” and there was an image of a mug and two odd- looking but happy children, their football- sized eyes staring blankly out at the world with obvious satisfaction and longing. Although faded, the red components in the lips and script were still visible. Pre- Epiphanic wall paintings were rare and, when they depicted the Previous, creepy. It was the eyes. Their pupils, far from being the fine, neat dot of normal people’s, were unnaturally wide and dark and empty— as though their heads were somehow hollow— and this gave their look of happiness a peculiar and contrived demeanor. We stood and stared at it for a moment, then moved on.

Excerpted from Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Copyright © 2009 by Jasper Fforde. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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