Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

The excesses of the 1920s are very popular right now in books and movies. From a new movie version of The Great Gatsby to several books featuring Zelda Fitzgerald to Suzanne Rindell's amazing debut novel, The Other Typist, the 1920s certainly have captured our imaginations lately. I am just as susceptible to the glamour and allure of the times as anyone else and I was absolutely captivated by this tale of Rose Baker, a straightlaced, rather colorless young woman raised by nuns and making her own way in a New York City police precinct working as a typist.

Rose is one of a new breed of women working in an arena previously dominated by men. As a stenographer, she types up confessions and other potentially gruesome bits of information for the police department. She prides herself on being incapable of being shocked and of being scrupulously honest in her work. She comes across as old-fashioned, repressed, and morally decisive and definitive, unable to entertain the existence of shades of grey.  But then the beautiful, secretive, and dangerously seductive Odalie arrives in the precinct. Rose, initially disgruntled by the other typist, is eventually attracted to the glitter, glamour, and aura of unconcerned wealth that Odalie wears like a perfume. When Odalie chooses Rose as her closest friend in the typing pool, Rose feels superior and never questions anything about her new friend's unusual circumstances. She is too drawn to the sparkle and apparent riches after living a lifetime of "must needs" and doing without, pinching pennies and being careful. She is utterly seduced, agreeing to move into a fashionable hotel apartment with Odalie, to take cabs to work every day, and to visit speakeasies to party the nights away. But everything is not as it seems on the surface as Rose comes to slowly understand.

The novel is told as if it is Rose's official confession of something as yet not revealed, complete with small throwaway comments full of foreboding and foreshadowing. Right from the start, Rose's narration hints that there's a chance things are not quite straightforward, not quite as they seem. But if Rose's dawning comprehension about her toxic relationship with Odalie is glacially slow, the reader never has doubts. Odalie's character right from the start comes across as an enchantress drawing all those around her into her web. As described by Rose in hindsight, she is the very embodiment of "'Will you walk into my parlour?' said the Spider to the Fly." But Rose, thrilled to be included and enticed by the lavish lifestyle they lead, unbends from her staid and repressed character and embraces a looser persona, willing to bend or abandon her heretofore trumpeted scruples. Although Rose is intended to be a na├»ve character, she is also clearly unreliable in her narration, obsessed as she is with Odalie's story or stories, her slick presentation, and her sumptuous lifestyle. As the story threads become more and more tangled in this tale of temptation and lies, the reader is as drawn into the escalating mess as Rose is.

Rindell has done a marvelous job evoking 1920s New York City and the shifting morals of the time, presenting historical facts that enhance the story and which bare her characters to the reader. The precinct and the detectives in it are real as is the atmosphere surrounding Prohibition, the crack-downs as well as the benign turning of blind eyes. The whole of it is addictive and makes for completely compelling reading. Throughout the novel there is a question of what is real and what is imagined and the unexpected and unexplained open ending only reinforces the mystery of it all. What, after all, is the truth? When you close the book, you still might not know, but you will know that you've read a masterful, thrilling novel you will ponder for a long time to come.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

1 comment:

  1. FABULOUS review.

    I agree, though. What is the truth. The ending had me saying: WHAT?

    I really loved this book.

    THANKS again for your superb review. Very professionally written and creative.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

    ReplyDelete

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