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A bold and heartbreaking new novel from one of America's most talented young writers.


'Kushner is one of our most outstanding modern writers.' STYLIST
'More knowing about prison life [than Orange Is The New Black]... so powerful.' NEW YORK TIMES
'Breathtaking.' VOGUE

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 relentlessly 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. Through Romy – and through a cast of astonishing characters populating Mars Room – Rachel Kushner presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.


The Mars Room is mysterious and irreducible. The writing is beautiful -- from hard precision to lyrical imagery, with a flawless feel for when to soar and when to pull back.

Dana Spiotta

Kushner is a young master. I honestly don’t know how she is able to know so much and convey all of this in such a completely entertaining and mesmerizing way.

George Saunders

It is an unforgettable novel, and leaves the reader in no doubt that Kushner is one of America’s greatest living authors.

Daily Telegraph

The Mars Room is uniquely informed ... empathetic. An addictive novel, laced throughout with bracing intelligence.

Joshua Ferris

Cements [Kushner's] status as one of America's finest writers.


One of the greatest novels I have read in years. Her prior novel, The Flamethrowers, was expansive and thrilling, but this is richer and deeper, more ambitious in its moral vision… an exhilarating, always surprising read.

Rob Doyle, Irish Times

It's her best book yet, another big step forward.

Jonathan Franzen

Both more blackly comic and more knowing about prison life [than “Orange Is The New Black”]… It’s one of those books that enrage you even as they break your heart… so powerful.

Charles McGrath, New York Times

If you haven’t heard of Rachel Kushner yet, you soon will. The American novelist has earned comparisons to Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Franzen… [The Mars Room] makes for a compelling read. Imagine a darker version of "Orange Is The New Black".

Louisa McGillicuddy, Sunday Times Style

A jail novel every bit as brutal as those of Edward Bunker or Stephen King… The prose is beautifully composed and the narrative never goes where you expect it. Kushner thinks herself startlingly well into the minds of warped men. The ending is stunning.

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard

When I finished reading The Mars Room, I immediately reread it because I didn’t want to leave its world… The Mars Room teems with quick and distinctive voices.

Max Liu, Financial Times

The Mars Room offers a rare combination of admirably sure-footed sentences and a character and plot that made me stay up far too late. Romy’s situation is unbearable, and almost unbearably realised, but the writing is so very good and the ideas so expertly handled that it’s a great pleasure to read in all its devastation.

Sarah Moss

You sense early in this novel that you’re entering Mary Gaitskill, Denis Johnson and Charles Bukowski territory… Kushner offers a great, subversive portrait of… life inside the women’s prison… grainy and persuasive.

Dwight Garner, New York Times

The Mars Room is so sensually convincing it leaves its imprint of steel mesh on your forehead, while its compassion embraces baby-killer and brutal cop alike in the merciless confines of the American justice system. An extraordinary literary achievement.

Adam Thorpe

I’ve been bowled over by Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room [about life in a women’s prison]. It’s astounding – very difficult to read but so beautifully done, and with such knowledge, although it doesn’t feel like a “researched” book.

Anne Tyler, Observer

I had to brace myself as I did for Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life ... An unforgettable portrait of a life lived on the margins in contemporary America.

Alice O'Keeffe, Bookseller *Editor's Choice*

Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room shows what happens when a smart writer gets truly serious. It is a necessary and compelling book, and this year’s must read.

Anne Enright

Written with the absorbing specificity and scope that have established Kushner as one of the most celebrated contemporary novelists in the country... A novel of great urgency and devastation.

Idra Novey, Los Angeles Times

Gritty, empathetic, finely rendered, no sugary toppings, and a lot of punches, none of them pulled.

Margaret Atwood, on Twitter

Kushner, a two-time National Book Award finalist, slowly and deliciously unfolds the tapestry of Romy’s backstory – infusing mystery and humor in unlikely places – while interrogating the harsh realities of the U.S. prison system.

Lucy Feldman, Time Magazine **The Best of Culture 2018**

[A] grainy and persuasive novel... This is a brooding book, one that dwells on Dostoyevskian notions of innocence and evil. It moves like a muscle car, oozing down the side roads of your mind.

Dwight Garner, New York Times **Critics' Top Books of 2018**

In smart, determined, and vigilant Romy, Kushner, an acclaimed writer of exhilarating skills, has created a seductive narrator of tigerish intensity… This is a gorgeously eviscerating novel of incarceration writ large… Rooted in deeply inquisitive thinking and executed with artistry and edgy wit, Kushner’s dramatic and disquieting novel investigates with verve and compassion societal strictures and how very difficult it is to understand each other and to be truly free.

Booklist *Starred Review*

Kushner is going to be one we turn to for our serious pleasures and for the insight and wisdom we’ll be needing in hard times to come. She is a novelist of the very first order.

Robert Stone

This unflinching and immersive portrait of prison life is a worthy follow-up to The Flamethrowers… Kushner’s prose fizzes as dangerously as the electric fence around Stanville, her observations spiky as barbed wire, her humour desert-sky dark… [The Mars Room] marks you like a tattoo.


Rachel Kushner’s third, extraordinarily accomplished novel, The Mars Room, glows with… authentic hyper-detail… She succeeds beautifully.


A searing look at life on the margins… This is, fundamentally, a novel about poverty and how our structures of power do not work for the poor, and Kushner does not flinch… gripping.

Kirkus Reviews

Urgent, terrifying and fascinating... Told with unswerving precision... Kushner is one of our most outstanding modern writers.

Francesca Brown, Stylist

Stunning… The Mars Room follows a woman, separated from her young son, who is serving two consecutive life sentences in a women’s correctional facility in California. A gorgeously written depiction of survival and the absurd and violent facets of life in prison.


Ambitious, astute, serious and profound, The Mars Room catapults Kushner into the American major league, along with Jonathan Franzen, Annie Proulx and Joyce Carol Oates.


A portrait of contemporary America from one of the literary world's most exciting emerging writers.

Evening Standard

Heartbreaking and unforgettable… [The Mars Room] deserves to be read with the same level of pathos, love, and humanity with which it clearly was written.

Publishers Weekly *Starred Review*

Kushner is a masterful world-creator, and her accomplishment here is unparalleled.


Manages to be a novel with its own worldview and its own textures, as much as a chronicle of a system that holds more prisoners per head of population than any other country in the world.

Colm Tóibín

The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner's masterly new novel, infiltrates a California prison and the American criminal-justice system with breathtaking intimacy and propulsion.


[Kushner] uses the novel as a place to be flamboyant and funny, and to tell propulsive stories, but mainly as a capacious arena for thinking... Like [Don DeLillo], she is good at conjuring mayhem.

Dana Goodyear, New Yorker

The Mars Room is the darkly comic, tragically poignant tale of a stripper turned convict and the life that awaits her behind bars.

Marie Claire

Any book by literary darling Rachel Kushner will be highly anticipated, and The Mars Room is no exception... a bleak, affecting read.


Utterly convincing… the fictions [Kushner] creates have the certainty of fact.

New York Review of Books

Kushner’s great gift is for the evocation of a scene, a time and place, and the atmosphere.

Harpers Bazaar

While Rachel Kushner's latest book doesn't pull any punches, her prose is so witty and surreal that I couldn't help tearing through... I loved it.


Kushner creates immersive histories of frayed lives from the criminal demi-monde.

Jeffrey Burke, Mail on Sunday

Spiked with gallows humour from Romy's cell mates, [The Mars Room] is a seamy snapshot of life behind bars, served with a full-throated gusto.


Placing culturally marginalised voices centre stage to explode open a world many of us know little about... [The Mars Room] left me in tears.

Claire Allfree, Daily Mail

Crushing... A powerful, tragic novel.

Alastair Mabbott, Herald Scotland

[A] visceral portrait of prison life

James Cann, UK Press Syndication

The charm and wit of the incarcerated people in The Mars Room shines in Kushner's prose

Irish Independent

A mysterious portrait of contemporary America and life on its margins... for fans of "Orange Is The New Black".

Marta Bausells, Elle

A very compelling read… hilarious and depressing and rage-inducing in equal measures.

Valerie O’Riordan, Bookmunch


The Week - Novel Of The Week

Lyrical, bleakly comic and, ultimately, intensely affecting

Stephanie Cross, The Lady

It is a necessary and compelling book, and this year’s must read

Anne Enright, Guardian

Rachel Kushner’s exhaustive research into what goes on within these walls

Strong Words

Kushner’s high-definition, high-impact prose is as electrifying as it is daring

Anthony Cummins, Daily Mail

The momentum of the novel resides in its prose, the spring and sass of a voice so vivid it can largely dispense with the mechanics of plot

Nat Segnit, Times Literary Supplement

A salty and hilarious novel from one of America's best living novelists.

Daily Telegraph

Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room should be a favourite [to win the Man Booker Prize]. If you like your escapism as gritty as it gets, prepare to be hooked by this unflinching account of a female prisoner serving a double life sentence... The Mars Room is rarely easy reading, but the furore of voices and violence and injustice throws you right into the story and keeps you immersed there.

Culture Whisper

Kushner’s novel is a timely reminder that a country’s authoritarian tendencies can be most easily measured by the number of people it deems unworthy of freedom

Emily Witt, London Review of Books

Rachel Kushner knows how to sniff out a good character.

Sunday Times

Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room immerses you in the life of a high-security women’s prison in California, its central character Romy – accused of killing her stalker – both gritty and fragile. This was not a subject I thought would grip me, but in Kushner’s firm hands I was entranced. Much of the book is autobiographical – while never in prison herself, Kushner was the daughter of Beatniks and allowed to roam the dodgier areas of San Francisco as a teenager. The characters range from bullet-headed killers to a well-meaning male teacher whose ambiguities are brilliantly done. Romy’s trans friend Conan, “shoulders as broad as the aisle, and a jawline beard”, is delightfully free of the politically correct, while the style veers excitingly from straight narrative to scribbled lists like whimpers of despair.

Adam Thorpe, Times Literary Supplement **Books of the Year 2018**

Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room was a hot favourite on this year's Booker shortlist, and it's easy to see why… Kushner's atmospheric writing is compelling to the last.

Irish Independent, *The best reads of 2018: Our critics name their top picks*

Kushner’s writing is the most marvellous I read this year… time and again I found myself rereading paragraphs of The Mars Room for her perfectly turned sentences, the music of her prose

Neil D. A. Stewart, Civilian, **Books of the Year**

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    June 18, 2018

    Jonathan Cape

    352 pages

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

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    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Paperback


    April 16, 2019


    352 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback


    June 15, 2018

    Jonathan Cape

    352 pages

    RRP $39.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    June 7, 2018

    Vintage Digital

    352 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle AU
    • iBooks
    • Google Play EBook AU
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks



Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays. Once a week the defining moment for sixty women takes place. For some of the sixty, that defining moment happens over and over. For them it is routine. For me it happened only once. I was woken at two a.m. and shackled and counted, Romy Leslie Hall, inmate W314159, and lined up with the others for an all-night ride up the valley.

As our bus exited the jail perimeter, I glued myself to the mesh-reinforced window to try to see the world. There wasn’t much to look at. Underpasses and on-ramps, dark, deserted boulevards. No one was on the street. We were passing through a moment in the night so remote that traffic lights had ceased to go from green to red and merely blinked a constant yellow. Another car came alongside. It had no lights. It surged past the bus, a dark thing with demonic energy. There was a girl on my unit in county who got life for nothing but driving. She wasn’t the shooter, she would tell anyone who’d listen. She wasn’t the shooter. All she did was drive the car. That was it. They’d used license plate reader technology. They had it on video surveillance. What they had was an image of the car, at night, moving along a street, first with lights on, then with lights off. If the driver cuts the lights, that is premeditation. If the driver cuts the lights, it’s murder.

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