The Mars Room
It was tough, depressing and hard to read, but by the same paradox it was also at times, funny, knowledgeable and insightful, which is why I continued to turn the page instead of turning away.
Rachel Kushner’s narrative at times gave deeply harrowing accounts of American prison life for women and also behind it a criticism of the judicial system. I thought the author caught the bleakness and seediness of the characters and places they were from and frequented very well as this leapt off the page which contributed to the reader feeling despondent. However at the end of the novel, I felt there was an upbeat note, however small, where the central character could see a little trickle of light, though maybe not everyone will feel that.
I didn’t quite understand the small chapters were the font changed and not sure this added anything to the story as left me a little confused and some of the ‘Americanisms’ when characters spoke in particular twang and referenced places, foods etc. I spoke to a lady from America on Instagram as she had read the book who agreed, if not from America this may confuse you as it as the novel does have a very much American feel about it.
Overall though tough to read and a little hard to understand in places, I have recommended to friends and family to read it as I feel the subject matter is important and has brought into focus, issues of prisoners’ rights as I couldn’t see barely any in the novel that they had, fair representation in court, amongst many others topics that needed to be addressed and discussed in the mainstream . I feel the novel has successfully achieved that as this contributed to a lively discussion and debate in our book club meeting.
A beautifully written book that grabbed me from page 1. Romy Hall is a women who never really stood a chance in life. The story of her and her fellow inmates in a penitentiary in the USA brings to life the struggle of vulnerable women in a made for male system. The subject matter is a difficult, yet sobering read that no one should shy away from, babies are really being taken away at birth from their mothers. It's clear Rachel Kushner has done her homework and she's done it well, not shying away from the fact that the majority of women in the penal system are there because somewhere along their journey they've been mistreated. Difficult, devastating and at points humorous but I couldn't put it down.
When l first heard that my reading group ‘Bigger’ Book club had been one of the lucky ones to be chosen through the great work of the reading agency, to be shadowing the Man Booker prize; there were some books on the short list that l fancied reading more than others. So when we were allocated ‘The Mars Room’ by American writer Rachel Kushner, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, mainly because of the subject matter and prison setting of the novel. However, it turned out to be a better read than l thought; and l can say that l enjoyed it more than anticipated. I found it well written, compelling and very thought stirring in content. I did find the Americanisms and references (of which there were several) hard to follow but having said that l would still recommend the book. It is certainly an eye-opener, very sad overall, however, with a surprising amount of ‘gallows’ humour. I found that l was interested in the characters but found there to be a few too many and fewer, would have given the reader chance to look more deeply into the lives and stories of those characters. It was a gritty, sad sometimes to the point of harrowing depiction of the American justice system, those embroiled in it and above all the complex, harsh and deprived lives of many of the people who end up within it. I did find the subject matter and lives of the characters inconceivable as it is so far out of my realm of experience but having said that l think at the core of the story is humanity, survival and yes even hope, which we can all relate to. It’s always good to expand the mind and comprehension of different life experiences, places and culture and this book lives up to that; I would say put aside any misgivings and give it a go!
This is an unsentimental portrayal of life at the margins of contemporary American society and what it takes to survive its brutal prison regime, a system based on incarceration not rehabilitation, itself based on a criminal justice system that seals many prisoners' fates from the moment they are born into poverty, neglect and abuse.
It was a haunting yet worthwhile read, but not a page-turner for me, not least because of the American culture references (UK reviewer) and sometimes I found myself NOT wanting to find out what happened next - it was too tragic, even though I knew there would be no happy endings on the horizon!
I would never have picked this book ordinarily if it wasn’t for our reading group being fortunate enough to shadow this Man Booker shortlisted book.
The story is set in the early 2000s, focused primarily on Romy Hall, who is in a women’s prison for two life sentences for the murder of her stalker. It shows the grim reality of Romy’s life — where she came from, how she got to prison, and her life in prison. Her life is harsh and she is hard edged but also vulnerable at the same time. Besides Romy it also focuses on many other characters connected to Romy or life in prison. It’s very thought provoking and heart-breaking in parts with some dark humour and it certainly grows on you the more you get into the book - well worth a read. Thanks to https://twitter.com/readingagency for the opportunity to shadow the https://twitter.com/ManBookerPrize.