Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Inferior Book Group #10:

I would never call reading a chore, but I'm a fairly slow reader compared to a lot of other people - especially people who also have English literature degrees.  That being said, I absolutely tore through Orange is the New Black during October.  I actually only started reading it on our flight home from America on the 13th, and I was finished by the end of the month, which - for me - is the equivalent of lightning speed.

Those of you who read my occasional 'What I'm watching' posts will already know that I'm a big fan of the Orange is the New Black TV adaptation, so I was intrigued to read Piper Kerman's original 2010 memoir about life in a women's prison.  Piper was incarcerated for just over a year in 2004, after pleading guilty to money laundering and drug trafficking ten years before, although that charge makes her crime sound a lot more cold and calculating than it actually was.

Orange is the New Black follows Kerman's prison journey from start to finish, and she doesn't spare any of the gory details either.  I was surprised to learn that there was truth behind the majority of the TV adaptation's story lines, although (funnily enough) the Hollywood version adds a lot of extra drama into the mix. 

Source: here 

For the most part, the real Piper has a fairly painless prison experience, but generally thanks to her fellow prisoners and not the state.  The book might not be as raunchy a thrill ride as the Netflix series, but Kerman is a witty and skilled narrator, and her writing style made me feel like I was listening to an old friend or 'bunkie' reminisce instead of reading a memoir.  Now and again the surreal 'normality' of it all lulled me into a false sense of security, which made occasional instances of cruelty at the hands of prison staff or other inmates all the more unsettling.

Without digressing from her story, Kerman uses Orange is the New Black as a platform to highlight the many injustices and flaws within the US prison system, and probably many others across the world.  I did find myself sympathising with Piper and her friends on the inside, despite the fact that they are criminals.  As the author points out, many of the women locked up with her in FCI Danbury had received long sentences for committing - or sometimes just being aware of - minor crimes, purely as a result of poor representation in court.  Piper, who could afford a first class lawyer, got off lightly for what is considered a fairly serious offence.

Rather than give the whole tale away (which I nearly have about forty times whilst writing this review) I'll just say this: I haven't enjoyed a book this much in a long, long time.  I would highly recommend giving Orange is the New Black a read, even if you've already watched the TV show to death.  No matter how tough those actresses might look, Kerman's account is the real, scary, warts-and-all deal.  I spent nearly every minute of reading this book feeling thankful for the most mundane luxuries in my life, including hot water, conditioner and vegetables.  If you know anyone considering a life of crime, buy them Orange is the New Black for Christmas.

You can follow the Piper Kerman on Twitter here, and check out her website here, for more information about her story.

Throughout November I'll be reading Paul Auster's 'meta detective fiction' work, The New York Trilogy.  I was actually meant to read this book three years ago for a module on my undergrad English lit. uni course, but more on that next time...

Read September's review here: On the Road

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