A friend was certain I would like Orange Is the New Black so I watched it as knitting background three years ago. I was moderately hooked and remember bingeing the two first seasons. Then something came up and I never went back to the latter seasons.
I realised two weeks ago that I had, by coincidence, purchased two recent books that both deal with women in jail. I started with Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room because of the good reviews. Once I started, I literally read the book in one go over a weekend. It is fantastic entertainment and really well written.
Despite the characters being totally miserable, each in their own ways, there’s no whining or unnecessary sentimentalism in the narration. For anyone who’s seen Orange is the New Black many customs and habits in the Mars Room strike a familiar chord. Also it is impossible to read the book without visualising the events take place in the Orange is the New Black -surroundings.
I enjoyed the Mars Room much more than I had initially thought. It is superbly precisely written in a non-calculating language. While some of the events are dramatic (the book opens with one of the inmates giving birth while waiting to be transferred to her final facility), you feel that they are part of the story, rather than props to extract pity or bemoaning. A fabulous summer read.
Cressida Connolly’s After the Party was part of UK Vogue’s summer reading recommendations. The story is set in the 1930s when the threat of the Second World War hovered over the Brits. A well-to-do family starts dallying with a political “peace movement” that turns out to be Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.
As the government eventually starts to arrest Mosley’s aiders and abettors, family members start turning each other in and as a result also the protagonist, Phyllis Forrester, is taken into custody and sent in jail together with her husband.
After the Party is less about the prison conditions in the UK in the 30s as it is about the part of history that is probably slightly less discussed. The book is an interesting historical snapshot and has some unexpected events and clever observations, but I was still expecting a bit more oomph. I possibly should not have read the Mars Room just before After the Party, because the former is absolute fireworks while the latter is rather semi-flat Pimms in comparison.
I imagine both books to work well as poolside literature. Also I found a nice sunscreen in London this weekend – Space NK sell an American brand Coola that do good SPFs in spray cans. The product claims to be organic, though I am not 100% sure whether it would qualify as natural cosmetics in Europe (also it is too hot in Brussels to start going through the INCI to verify this). If you do not want to end up looking like a greasy paste-head (I’m referring to the Weleda SPF that I wrote about earlier) when going about your tanning, you might want to give this coconut-smelling SPF30 -spray a chance.