The latest Fforde novel, Shades of Grey, is the first in a series of books about a future world known as Chromatacia. If you’ve seen my review of his first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair, or if you’re a fan of the author, you already know that fantasist Fforde writes some of the most intriguing speculative fiction around today.
Science Fiction and Fantasy often takes us to bizarre and strange worlds—there’s nothing new about that—but few fictional landscapes are as strangely original, weird and screwball as Fforde’s settings. In so many ways, they are far removed from the conventions and notions of previous speculative writings.
I’ve decided the best way to give you a taste of this novel, is present some of the “what if” questions Fforde had to mull over as he was concocting this delightful work. Here we go…
What if humanity was divided into a hierarchy based on what color individuals could perceive? Protagonist Eddie sees only shades of red, and is classified as a “Red.” Heroine Jane is a “Grey.”
What if your standing in society was based on the level of color perception you have? If you see more purple than other Purples in your community, you become a governing prefect. See more green than other Greens? You’re a Green Prefect.
What if your job was determined by your color perception? You wouldn’t want to be a Grey, since you would work long hours performing sometimes back-breaking duties.
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.”
What if viewing certain colors could heal, or inebriate, or even kill? You don’t call the doctor in this world, you send for the Swatchman.
What if genetic engineering had made humans night blind? Our pupils would be much smaller, for one thing. (And what if other genetic modifications unfortunately led to the far-to-often loss of ears, eyebrows, and fingers?)
What if society was based on a rule book that governs virtually every aspect of life, from what two colors can legally marry, to when you can drink Ovaltine, to what objects can be manufactured.
What if the rule book accidentally left out the manufacture of spoons? Spoons would become some of the most prized objects in the world!
What if some horrible catastrophe had happened hundreds of years in the past that led to this color-centric world?
What if this colortocracy, and these genetic modifications, and all of these rules had one goal: to keep human society in stasis, and to keep the true rulers in charge?
And what if you asked too many questions?
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.
Have you read Shades of Grey or other Jasper Fforde novels? Let us know what you think about his one-of-kind creations.
So… we’re starting a new feature here on the Okie Reads blog that is literally talking about books. We’re going to do short interviews with friends and colleagues about the books they have been reading, and share their thoughts with our readers.
First up: Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. Verghese is a doctor and academician who has written extensively about disease and its impact on individuals and cultures, as well as about medical ethics and the physician/patient relationship. Cutting for Stone is his first work of fiction.
I noticed fellow library staffer Rebecca Barker reading the book last fall. Since Verghese’s novel takes place in Ethiopia, where he grew up, and Rebecca had been to Ethiopia, I was intrigued to get her take on the work.
Q: What does the novel’s title, Cutting for Stone, refer to?
A: At first, I saw the title referring to the connection between the gall bladder surgeries performed on patients and the Hippocratic Oath’s inclusion of “do no harm.” Toward the end of the book, I related the cutting away of issues between the characters to establish relationships between father and sons.
Q: So, some cutting away needs to be done in order to find the connections?
A: Yes, to find the love. I think the theme of the book is love; love of brothers, man and woman, adoptive parents. Love of country, medicine and self.
Q: How does the author balance his interest in medicine with the format of a novel?
A: The book is full of stories about particular afflictions Ethiopians suffer and the medical procedures employed to help them. I could easily envision the surgical procedures since he describes them so well. At the same time, there is a theme in the book of keeping the patient’s welfare at the forefront. I was interested to learn that Verghese works at Stanford and interacts with patients regularly. He teaches interns to focus on the patient rather than the medical equipment for diagnosing disease. Sounds like a man with a heart for humanity.
Q: You’ve been to Ethiopia, and you have friends there. How well do you think the author captured this part of the world? Did you learn more about the country than you previously knew?
A: Verghese brought back vivid memories to my mind of the country and the people of Ethiopia as I saw on my trip. He included a historical perspective of which I knew only a little, but by and large, he refreshed my memory of beautiful people who live graciously in a stark and difficult environment.
Q: Sounds like this book gets a definite thumbs up from you.
A: I highly recommend this book, one of the best I’ve read in the past few years. The warmth and passion kept me engrossed from beginning to end.
And there you have it, an unqualified recommendation.
Have any of you out there in the blogosphere read Cutting for Stone? If so, what was your take on the work?
The National Book Critics Circle has announced their 31 nominees for 2010. the Circle’s awards honor the best literature published in English in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. These are the only awards chosen by the critics themselves.
But the really good thing is their blog, Critical Mass is highlighting one of the thirty-one finalists each day leading up to the March 10 announcement of winners. They have three up so far. I think this is such a good idea because no one (except maybe the NBCC folks) have the time to read all the titles and this is a good way to not only get a peek at the books but an introduction of the authors.
Just a note: The National Book Awards are books judged by fellow authors, ( announced late last year) and the National Book Critics Circle are books judged by reviewers and critics.