A novel where the setting is like one of the characters, from San Francisco’s seedier districts to the bleak hinterlands where the prison towns are. We first meet Romy Hall on a prisoner transport bus, handcuffed to a manic babykiller who won’t stop talking, as they hurtle through the night to life in a women’s maximum security facility. Romy is a small cog among others in a big and unsympathetic machine, desperate for news of her son. The narrative is told in a series of flashbacks intersecting with the daily tedium and casual violence of prison routine. Romy’s time as a stripper in club giving the book its title, The Mars Room, is where she meets her stalker, and how she earns her life sentence in Stanville Correctional Facility for his murder. Other characters are elements in the story, like the embittered English literature teacher Gordon Hauser, or her trans cellmate Conan. Its a vivid, immersive world, shocking for its realness, a faithful transcription of life as an impoverished woman in contemporary America. Its one of my favourites for and exactly what good fiction should be.
Jonathan Cape 2018