The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner

“The word violence was depleted and generic from overuse and yet it still had power, still meant something, but multiple things. There were stark acts of it: beating a person to death. And there were more abstract forms, depriving people of jobs, safe housing, adequate schools.”

This is a book to make you angry about criminal justice. It opens with a woman beginning two life sentences for killing her stalker.

It’s devastating and unflinching, with only the odd uplifting moment. I found it occasionally funny but, for me, the comedy is almost completely obliterated by how bleak the plot is.

That said, for all that it filled me with despair and anger, it’s remarkably light to read. Kushner creates tension and dread while somehow managing to skate you over the top of it.

While I really enjoyed it, there’s something about the ending that I found unsatisfying. It made sense, but it felt a bit abrupt and like it was just a way to bring the book to an end. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading – it’s gripping, thoughtful and full of compassion. 

On a purely aesthetic note, it also has one of the few covers that I love. (I think most book covers or ugly or at the very least underwhelming, so a beautiful one is always a joy to discover.)

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