Jasper Fforde Shades of Grey: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780143143260

Shades of Grey: A Novel

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9780143143260: Shades of Grey: A Novel

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A brilliantly imagined satire that envisions a terrifying dystopia by the bestselling author of Thursday Next.

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About the Author:

Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page. He lives and writes in Wales. The Eyre Affair was his first novel in the bestselling "Thursday Next" series. He is also the author of the "Nursery Crime" series.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A Morning in Vermillion


2.4.16.55.021: Males are to wear dress code #6 during inter-Collective travel. Hats are encouraged but not mandatory.

It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant. It wasn’t really what I’d planned for myself— I’d hoped to marry into the Oxbloods and join their dynastic string empire. But that was four days ago, before I met Jane, retrieved the Caravaggio and explored High Saffron. So instead of enjoying aspirations of Chromatic advancement, I was wholly immersed within the digestive soup of a yateveo tree. It was all frightfully inconvenient.

But it wasn’t all bad, for the following reasons: First, I was lucky to have landed upside down. I would drown in under a minute, which was far, far preferable to being dissolved alive over the space of a few weeks. Second, and more important, I wasn’t going to die ignorant. I had discovered something that no amount of merits can buy you: the truth. Not the whole truth, but a pretty big part of it. And that was why this was all frightfully inconvenient. I wouldn’t get to do anything with it. And this truth was too big and too terrible to ignore. Still, at least I’d held it in my hands for a full hour and understood what it meant.

I didn’t set out to discover a truth. I was actually sent to the Outer Fringes to conduct a chair census and learn some humility. But the truth inevitably found me, as important truths often do, like a lost thought in need of a mind. I found Jane, too, or perhaps she found me. It doesn’t really matter. We found each other. And although she was Grey and I was Red, we shared a common thirst for justice that transcended Chromatic politics. I loved her, and what’s more, I was beginning to think that she loved me. After all, she did apologize before she pushed me into the leafless expanse below the spread of the yateveo, and she wouldn’t have done that if she’d felt nothing.

So that’s why we’re back here, four days earlier, in the town of Vermillion, the regional hub of Red Sector West. My father and I had arrived by train the day before and overnighted at the Green Dragon. We had attended Morning Chant and were now seated for breakfast, disheartened but not surprised that the early Greys had already taken the bacon, and it remained only in exquisite odor. We had a few hours before our train and had decided to squeeze in some sightseeing.

“We could always go and see the Last Rabbit,” I suggested. “I’m told it’s unmissable.”

But Dad was not to be easily swayed by the rabbit’s uniqueness. He said we’d never see the Badly Drawn Map, the Oz Memorial, the color garden and the rabbit before our train departed. He also pointed out that not only did Vermillion’s museum have the best collection of Vimto bottles anywhere in the Collective, but on Mondays and Thursdays they demonstrated a gramophone.

“A fourteen- second clip of ‘Something Got Me Started,’ ” he said, as if something vaguely Red- related would swing it.

But I wasn’t quite ready to concede my choice.

“The rabbit’s getting pretty old,” I persisted, having read the safety briefing in the “How Best to Enjoy Your Rabbit Experience” leaflet, “and petting is no longer mandatory.”

“It’s not the petting,” said Dad with a shudder, “it’s the ears. In any event,” he continued with an air of finality, “I can have a productive and fulfilling life having never seen a rabbit.”

This was true, and so could I. It was just that I’d promised my best friend, Fenton, and five others that I would log the lonely bun’s Taxa number on their behalf and thus allow them to note it as “proxy seen” in their animal- spotter books. I’d even charged them twenty- five cents each for the privilege— then blew the lot on licorice for Constance and a new pair of synthetic red shoelaces for me.

Dad and I bartered like this for a while, and he eventually agreed to visit all of the town’s attractions but in a circular manner, to save on shoe leather. The rabbit came last, after the color garden.

So, having conceded to at least include the rabbit in the morning’s entertainment, Dad returned to his toast, tea and copy of Spectrum as I looked idly about the shabby breakfast room, seeking inspiration for the postcard I was writing. The Green Dragon dated from before the Epiphany and, like much of the Collective, had seen many moments, each of them slightly more timeworn than the one before. The paint in the room was peeling, the plaster molding was dry and crumbly, the linoleum tabletops were worn to the canvas and the cutlery was either bent, broken or missing.

But the hot smell of toast, coffee and bacon, the flippant affability of the staff and the noisy chatter of strangers enjoying transient acquaintance gave the establishment a peculiar charm that the reserved, eminently respectable tearooms back home in Jade- under- Lime could never match. I noticed also that despite the lack of any Rules regarding seat plans in “ non- hue- specific” venues, the guests had unconsciously divided the room along strictly Chromatic lines. The one Ultraviolet was respectfully given a table all to himself, and several Greys stood at the door waiting patiently for an empty table even though there were places available. We were sharing our table with a Green couple. They were of mature years and wealthy enough to wear artificially green clothes so that all could witness their enthusiastic devotion to their hue, a proudfully expensive and tastelessly ostentatious display that was doubtless financed by the sale of their child allocation. Our clothes were dyed in a conventional shade visible only to other Reds, so to the Greens sitting opposite we had only our Red Spots to set us apart from the Greys, and were equally despised. When they say red and green are complementary, it doesn’t mean we like each other. In fact, the only thing that Reds and Greens can truly agree on is that we dislike Yellows more.

“You,” said the Green woman, pointing her spoon at me in an exceptionally rude manner, “fetch me some marmalade.”

I dutifully complied. The Green woman’s bossy attitude was not atypical. We were three notches lower in the Chromatic scale, which officially meant we were subservient. But although lower in the Order, we were still Prime within the long- established Red- Yellow- Blue Color Model, and a Red would always have a place in the village Council, something the Greens, with their bastard Blue- Yellow status could never do. It irritated them wonderfully. Unlike the dopey Oranges, who accepted their lot with a cheery, self- effacing good humor, Greens never managed to rise above the feeling that no one took them seriously enough. The reason for this was simple: They had the color of the natural world almost exclusively to themselves, and felt that the scope of their sight- gift should reflect their importance within the Collective. Only the Blues could even begin to compete with this uneven share of the Spectrum, as they owned the sky, but this was a claim based mainly on surface area rather than a variety of shades, and when it was overcast, they didn’t even have that.

But if I thought she was ordering me about solely due to my hue, I was mistaken. I was wearing a NEEDS HUMILITY badge below my Red Spot. It related to an incident with the head prefect’s son, and I was compelled to wear it for a week. If the Green woman had been more reasonable, she would have excused me the errand due to the prestigious 1,000 MERITS badge that I also wore. Perhaps she didn’t care. Perhaps she just wanted the marmalade. I fetched the jar from the sideboard, gave it to the Green, nodded respectfully, then returned to the postcard I was writing. It was of Vermillion’s old stone bridge and had been given a light blue wash in the sky for five cents extra. I could have paid ten and had one with greened grass, too, but this was for my potential fiancée, Constance Oxblood, and she considered overcolorization somewhat vulgar. The Oxbloods were strictly old- color and preferred muted tones of paint wherever possible, even though they could have afforded to decorate their house to the highest chroma. Actually, much to them was vulgar, and that included the Russetts, whom they regarded as nouveau couleur. Hence my status as “potential fiancé.” Dad had negotiated what we called a “half promise,” which meant I was first- optioned to Constance. The agreement fell short of being reciprocal, but it was a good deal— a concession that, despite being a Russett and three generations from Grey, I might be able to see a goodly amount of red, so couldn’t be ignored completely.

“Writing to Fish- face already?” asked my father with a smile. “Her memory’s not that bad.”

“True,” I conceded, “but despite her name, constancy is possibly her least well- defined attribute.”

“Ah. Roger Maroon still sniffing about?”

“As flies to stinkwort. And you mustn’t call her Fish- face.”

“More butter,” remarked the Green woman, “and don’t dawdle this time.”


We finished breakfast and, after some last- minute packing, descended to the reception desk, where Dad instructed the porter to have our suitcases delivered to the station.

“Beautiful day,” said the manager as we paid the bill. He was a thin man with a finely shaped nose and one ear. The loss of an ear was not unusual, as they could be torn off annoyingly easily, but what was unusual was that he’d not troubled to have it stitched back on, a relatively straightforward procedure. More interesting, he wore his Blue Spot high up on his lapel. It was an unofficial but broadly accepted signal that he knew how to “fix” things, for a fee. We’d had crayfish for dinner the night before, and he hadn’t punched it out of ration books. It had cost us an extra half merit, covertly wrapped in a napkin.

“Every day is a beautiful day,” replied my father in a cheery manner.

“Indeed they are,” the manager countered genially. After we had exchanged feedback— on the hotel for being clean and moderately comfortable, and on us, for not bringing shame to the establishment by poor table manners or talking loudly in public areas— he asked, “Do you travel far this morning?”

“We’re going to East Carmine.”

The Blue’s manner changed abruptly. He gave us an odd look, handed back our merit books and wished us a joyously uneventful future before swiftly moving to attend someone else. So we tipped the porter, reiterated the time of our train and headed off to the first item on our itinerary.


“Hmm,” said my father, staring at the Badly Drawn Map once we had donated our ten cents and shuffled inside the shabby yet clean maphouse,

“I can’t make head nor tail of this.”

The Badly Drawn Map might not have been very exciting, but it was very well named. “That’s probably why it survived the deFacting,” I suggested, for the map was not only mystifying but mind- numbingly rare.

Aside from the Parker Brothers’ celebrated geochromatic view of the Previous World, it was the only pre- Epiphanic map known. But somehow its rarity wasn’t enough to make it interesting, and we stared blankly for some minutes at the faded parchment, hoping to either misunderstand it on a deeper level or at least get our money’s worth.

“The longer and harder we look at it, the cheaper the entrance donation becomes,” Dad explained.

I thought of asking how long we’d have to stare at it before they owed us money, but didn’t.

He put his guidebook away, and we walked back out into the warm sunlight. We felt cheated out of our ten cents but politely left positive feedback, since the drabness of the exhibit was no fault of the curator’s.

“Dad?”

“Yes?”

“Why was the hotel manager so dismissive of East Carmine?”

“The Outer Fringes have a reputation for being unsociably dynamic,” he said after giving my question some thought, “and some consider that eventfulness may lead to progressive thought, with all the attendant risks that might bring to the Stasis.”

It was a diplomatically prescient remark, and one that I had cause to consider a lot over the coming days.

“Yes,” I said, “but what do you think?”

He smiled.

“I think we should go and see the Oz Memorial. Even if it’s as dull as magnolia, it will still be a thousand times more interesting than the Badly Drawn Map.”


We walked along the noisy streets toward the museum and soaked in the hustle, bustle, dust and heat of Vermillion. All about us were the traders who dealt with daily requisites: livestock herders, barrow boys, water sellers, piemen, storytellers and weight guessers. Catering for more long- term needs were the small shops, such as repairers, artifact dealers, spoon traders and calculating shops that offered addition and subtraction while you waited. Moderators and loopholists were hirable by the minute to advise on matters regarding the Rules, and there was even a shop that traded solely in floaties, and another that specialized in postcode genealogy. Amid it all I noticed a stronger- than- usual presence of Yellows, presumably to keep an eye out for illegal color exchange, seed trading or running with a sharp implement.

Unusually for a regional hub, Vermillion was positioned pretty much on the edge of the civilized world. Beyond it to the east were only the Redstone Mountains and isolated outposts like East Carmine. In the uninhabited zone there would be wild outland, megafauna, lost villages of untapped scrap color and quite possibly bands of nomadic Riffraff. It was exciting and worrying all in one, and until the week before, I hadn’t even heard of East Carmine, let alone thought I would be spending a month there on Humility Realignment. My friends were horrified, expressed low- to- moderate outrage that I should be treated this way and proclaimed that they would have started a petition if they could have troubled themselves to look for a pencil.

“The Fringes are the place of the slack- willed, slack- jawed and slack- hued,” remarked Floyd Pinken, who could comfortably boast all three of those attributes, if truth be known.

“And be wary of losers, self- abusers, fence leapers and fornicators,” added Tarquin, who, given his family history, would not have seemed out of place there either.

They then informed me that I would be demonstrably insane to leave the safety of the village boundary for even one second, and that a trip to the Fringes would have me eating with my fingers, slouching and with hair below the collar in under a week. I almost decided to buy my way out of the assignment with a loan from my twice- widowed aunt Beryl, but Constance Oxblood thought otherwise.

“You’re doing a what?” she asked when I mentioned the reason I was going to East Carmine.

“A chair census, my poppet,” I explained. “Head Office is worried that the chair density might have dropped below the proscribed 1.8 per person.”

“How absolutely thrilling. Does an ottoman count as a chair or a very stiff cushion?”

She went on to say that I would be showing significant daring and commendable bravery if I went, so I changed my mind. With the prospect of joining the family of Oxblood and of myself as potential prefect material, I was going to need the broadening that travel and furniture counting would doubtless bring, and a month in the intolerably unsophisticated Outer Fringes might well supply that for me.


The Oz Memorial trumped the Badly Drawn Map in that it was baffling in three dimensions rather than just two. It was a partial bronze of a group of oddl...

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