If a book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize you have to read it, right? That was my reasoning going into this next book. Here’s what I thought.
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.
I gave this three stars not because it was a bad book, it just wasn’t the book for me. It doesn’t have much of a story. You learn some elements of some characters life and how they ended up there but there is no big climax. If you need an unravelling plot in your fiction, this book won’t tick the right boxes for you.
Also, if you’ve watched any prison show, read some similar books, or just know about the prison system in general, you won’t get much new insight into life as an inmate. However, this book is an excellent reflection on the lower classes and how for many, a life as a criminal is sometimes predetermined. It also shows how the lower classes and immigrants are very often overlooked and don’t get a fair trial in court or even in life. It really touches on that grey area of criminals being punished for their crimes but also seeing them as people beyond their crime that deserve some kind of help and understanding.
The Mars Room wasn’t the book for me but it did make me think.
Interested in The Mars Room. Pick up your copy here.