*Just a gentle note, this review may contain small spoilers you may want to avoid before reading*
In today’s post, it’s all about The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. This book was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2018… so, what’s it all about? Here’s the blurb:
It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been served: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? As said above, this book was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2018 and I didn’t read it at the time but always thought about it. I think it was down to the fact that I thought it was too overwhelming, that I wouldn’t understand it, or maybe even not like it at all. But recently, I thought: why not? I took the plunge and I read it in three days straight. I couldn’t put it down. This book is fantastic.
Before reading it I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest. But I was hooked from the very first page. I’ve never read anything from Kushner before so wasn’t sure what her writing style and voice is like but I loved this book. It’s the sort of book that is so real, so raw, that it gets under your skin and you live this book. You get so lost in the world of the characters and you just can’t stop turning the pages. The writing style is pitch-perfect. Kushner never misses a beat. It’s bold, unsentimental, brilliantly observed and she crafts sentences and paragraphs like no other. I thought the story was told in a brilliant way, bite-size chunks of paragraphs which means the pace is never dropped at all. I also loved how descriptive Kushner was, especially in terms of the setting and nature. It really added to the overall atmosphere of the book – from when Romy is looking out of the window on the bus in the first chapter, to the surrounding mountains, to the Mars Room, to the prison itself, it’s brilliantly written and captivating. This really is a book that immerses you into the story and doesn’t let you go easily.
Kushner has written brilliant characters. Romy is a brilliant character and her voice was established from the first page. Kushner really captured something special in Romy but what I also loved from Kushner is all of the characters were established and real. Even characters that are mentioned once, visitors in the prison, the men in the Mars Room, etc. I felt every character was bouncing off the page and it added an extra layer to the overall book.
‘I said everything was fine but nothing was. The life was sucking out of me. The problem was not moral. It was nothing to do with morality. These men dimmed my glow. Made me numb to touch, and angry. ‘
This book doesn’t hide away from what’s going on in society. There are a lot of important themes and messages throughout this book. From gender, class, rape, abuse, violence, transgender issues, grief, love, relationships and more. Kushner writes about these themes in the most realistic and truthful way possible.
Kushner is clearly in her element in this book, she has created something very special indeed. It took me a while to get used to the narrative but once I got the hang of it, I loved every single second reading this book. It’s bold, beautifully crafted and doesn’t shy away from some of the most important issues in society. I can see why this was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize – it really is a masterpiece. Prisons, especially women’s prisons, is nothing new, just look at Orange is the New Black, but I think this is more truthful, more rooted into reality. I’m so glad I read this book. A true masterpiece.
Have you read The Mars Room? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!