The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner


Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences, plus six years, at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Outside is the world from which she has been permanently severed: the San Francisco of her youth, changed almost beyond recognition. The Mars Room strip club where she once gave lap dances for a living. And her seven-year-old son, Jackson, now in the care of Romy’s estranged mother.

Inside is a new reality to adapt to: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive. The deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner details with humour and precision. Daily acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike. Allegiances formed over liquor brewed in socks, and stories shared through sewage pipes.

Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line – until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny and culminating in a climax of almost unbearable intensity. Through Romy – and through a cast of astonishing characters populating The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.

Taken from the publisher’s website:


Why should you read this book?

Rachel Kushner (1968) is an American writer, mainly known for her novels Telex from Cuba (2008) and The Flamethrowers (2013). The Mars Room (2018) is her latest novel and tells the story of Romy Hall who has been convicted to two consecutive life sentences.

The Mars Room is an unforgettable, strange and necessary novel. First of all, I kept thinking that it was a very cinematographic book: a David Lynch movie, for sure. Prison, police, drugs, obsessed and twisted men, strippers, pain and love, and, lastly, bizarre characters. Alongside with this very particular universe, Rachel Kushner delved into the complexity of humankind and, consequently, explored the American criminal justice system, including the death penalty.

In terms of structure, this also isn’t a traditional novel. It goes back and forth in time and it is divided into fragments, which I personally loved. In addition, I must say I loved Rachel Kushner writing style. It’s stark yet touching; It can be cynical and sarcastic but it reveals a glimmer of hope too. As a reader, you get the impression that Kushner knew perfectly what she wanted from The Mars Room, turning it into a very solid book.

I am sure Kushner’s latest novel will remain with me for a long time. I have finished it but I still find myself rooting for Romy.

I’d like to thank Vintage for sending me an advance reading copy. You can buy the book here.

Book Details:
English Edition

Publisher: Jonathan Cape (Vintage)
Published on: June 2018
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Price: £16.99

4 stars



rachel kushner the mars room

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