First of all: Wow!
I watched the series in the space of four days and read the book in the space of a week.
Then a friend on twitter told me I absolutely had to read the book first.
I ignored that and watched the series first, but still read the book.
First thing I learnt, except for the background to how a seemingly sophisticated and white laced young woman ended up in a federal prison and a few spots here and there, they are completely different stories.
So lets review them as such.
First of all, the back ground to both:
A very honest, open and vulnerable tale of a woman who made a mistake in her early twenties, that came back to get her in her thirties.
She made a life for herself, she met a man she loved and wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Successful in her chosen career and settling down to what she thought would be a simple, yet successful life. Then the FBI came knocking on her door:
Ten years earlier she had had a relationship with an enticing older woman who had introduced to a life of travel and adventure around the world, while she smuggled and imported and exported large quantities of heroin for an international drug cartel.
On one occasion she requested Piper carry money, a lot of money, from the movement of heroin, through customs in Brussels.
She did it and seemed to get away with it, but soon decided this was the life she wanted and she moved on. Now however her name has been dropped, probably to reduce someone else’s sentence along the way and now she’s facing fifteen months as a federal prisoner in Danbury.
Orange is the New Black: The book.
Piper Kerman never once makes an excuse or defends her actions that she made as a naive twenty-two year old who smuggled drug money in Europe in the early Nineties. She is honest that she made a mistake and that she thought once she’d left that life behind that she had got away with it. When the Feds came knocking she didn’t run and hide and she didn’t try and come up with a defence, she simply held her hands up and said ‘yeah, I did it, I messed up!’
Her honesty and vulnerability about how she went into a system that seems to be designed to just lock people away for a bit of time and then let them go with no real rehabilitation is endearing. She makes some of what would be a difficult and terrifying situation rather comical, but never defers from the seriousness of the situation she found herself in.
The most heart-warming and moving part of her tale though, are the women she shared her time with. There is no Hollywood or theatrical presentation of hardened women who are there simply to survive, every woman for herself etc etc etc. They look after the new girl from the moment she walks through the door. They teach her how to survive. They share with her and show her the ropes and quickly induct her into their community.
This is how they survive: they look after each other. They never look to the guards or the authorities, because those with the experience know, there is no real help to be gained there. There’s no hostility or discrimination from the crack heads of the ghetto to the white laced crook who made a simple mistake. Inside they form a sisterhood and to read, you see that that is what makes this story.
It is not surviving a broken system, it’s not the rough and ready images of society, it’s not even how to survive away from your loved ones for a length of time. It’s the friendships and bonds these women form with each other. There is complete and genuine affection, real gratitude and sincere emotion.
I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough.
Orange is the New Black: The TV Series.
Witty, clever and incredibly funny without once deferring from the situation Piper Kerman wrote about in
Of course the show is the tale of Piper Chapman, a clever, witty and somewhat naive woman who studies to be a prisoner when she finds out she’s going inside and yet is still completely unprepared. her book.
I laughed from the first episode to the last and yet felt I had watched something intense and real and emotional on several levels.
Chapman, is not Kerman, they have very different personalities, chapman is much more volatile than Kerman, but then so are her fellow inmates.
I think Taylor Schilling did a fantastic job dealing with the different circumstances her character was faced with, from the unwanted attention of ‘Crazy eyes’, facing the former love of her life, being bunked with a veteran prisoner who is shrouded in mystery, and accidentally upsetting the fierce Russian cook.
(The only thing I struggled with was seeing my teenage hero Kate Mulgrew, captain Kathryn Janeway, as Red and hearing her say the word ‘pussy’. My sixteen year old self is shaking her head in denial!)
I loved the character of Sofia a transgender woman among varying classes and prejudices, and how she deals with her new identity while constrained.
Of course I loved Nicky and Morello who clearly have lot more to their relationship than either of them will admit.
The tale of the prisoner and her guard: Daya and Bennett and their love child.
Pornstache and will he ever get his job back and realise the whole thing was a set up?
Taysteee and Poussey and their endearing friendship and camaraderie.
And we of course love Miss Claudette, if we’re ever so slightly scared of her!
Of course we were left on tenterhooks as Piper finally made her choice between Alex and Larry and then seemed to lose both, and that final scene as she faced a showdown with the ‘defender of the unborn’ crack head, Christian zealot Pensatucky.
I can’t wait for the second season, even on reading that changes are a foot. Rumours say that Alex, Laura Prepon, will be leaving and only in a few episodes. I expect we are in for a treat as the series diverts further from the book with more rather exaggerated scenarios, but keeping true to the intention and point of Kerman’s novel.
The new series is to be with us in June, so if you haven’t watched it yet, catch up, it’s so worth it.
And check out the trailer for season 2: