Monday, 3 August 2015

Orange is the New Black (2010) Book/TV Show Review

Sitting through the first ever episode of OITNB I was so convinced that I was going to hate this series that I gave up watching and played on my phone to pass the time. The opening hour of the TV show is filled with raunchy sex scenes to try and entice the viewer to keep watching. For me it was a cheap tactic instead of just making a great TV show. In fact the rest of the series was literally nothing like the pilot and it turned out to be one of the best and funniest TV series I've ever watched. Mostly because it has the widest range of the most complex and interesting and enjoyable characters.

I was surprised to learn, then, that the book includes little to no sex at all, considering the amount that has been shown throughout OITNB's three series. It has mentions of "gay for the stay" women who are short-term lesbians to pass the time which I thought was clever and funny. In fact the original book version that the TV series is based on rarely dips into the issues fully explored within the series, and that's one of its biggest downfalls, along with the lack of humour. The book is humorous at times, but not enough to evoke a full blown belly laugh. More like a chuckle every so often at a funny comment. It makes it funnier because the book is more based in real life and it's hard to imagine the events really occurring. 

This is one of the few exceptions to my rule of preferring to read the book before the TV show/movie. This time around it really helped to know the characters and to be able to put a name to a face because there are so many names that otherwise it would be hard to keep up. Also interesting was being able to read the source material for all of the much-loved characters of the series. If I hadn't known them, I wouldn't have cared much at all for the poorly described characters briefly touched upon in the book. For most of the women their crimes are secret and Piper Kerman never finds out why exactly they have been locked up. The focus is on Piper herself, her struggles and her ups and downs, naturally as it is her book. The TV show is more widely dispersed between character's backgrounds and with time being divided, especially in the third series, quite equally between Piper and her fellow inmates. It is so much more involving to have the flashbacks in the TV series that show why they are locked up, their backgrounds, their crimes, their families. You get to know every single inmate, every single officer, and care for each of them. In the TV series no one is written about enough to know much more than the very basics for moving the plot on. The blanks are filled in by what you know from watching the series. 

Also, Crazy Eyes is only a very, very minor character! WTF! 

However on a more positive note the book is well paced, intriguing, and interesting. The TV series deviates from the plot so it's not exactly the same. I was keen to find out whether Piper and Nora get together, whether she stays with Larry, what people were really like in the original story. It's a good, easy read that doesn't require much thought or concentration. It is kind of watching TV and I can see how easily it was considered as an adaptation. It works well, better even, seeing the prison life played out visually. However it's good to read about how a real, normal woman survived a year in prison. I tend to think of criminals stereotypically, not helped by other shows/books. This one breaks those character cliches and stereotypes and shows real women struggling with their prison lives and to fit in with other inmates. 

The book is even tamer than the show, with barely anything negative happening to Piper at all. There are ups and downs but they are more like small bumps in the road than the mountains I would have expected from twelve months locked inside of a low security prison. It's filled with real life facts and statistics about prison and particularly incarcerated females in America. Real-life Piper now works within a foundation helping women in prison and so it's hard not to read the book as a kind of preachy text with obvious goals and I think as such it probably manipulates the truth to suit her purpose of teaching the reader about the injustices that occur within American prisons. 

A good book with intriguing insights into female prison life, but not as good as the TV show.