Monday, January 20, 2014

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

Rose Baker seals men's fates. With a few strokes of the keys that sit before her, she can send a person away for life in prison. A typist in the New York City Police Department, Rose is like a high priestess. Confessions are her job. The criminals admit to their transgressions, and Rose records their crimes.

But 1923 is a confusing time for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. All around her women bob their hair short, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. Yet prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear. When glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under Odalie's spell. And soon her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.

This is one of those really good books that drives you nuts once you reach the end. In many ways, I'm reminded of when I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson; when I finished that book (which is awesome!) I realized that I wasn't sure I'd read the story correctly. And that's how The Other Typist feels - I'm not sure I read the story right. If I had the time, I'd love to go through it again, see if I can figure it out. Because it's one of those books, with not only an unreliable narrator, but also an ambiguous ending.

However, it's a very well written book. Rindell has done a wonderful job capturing the feel/flavor of Prohibition New York, of the start of the flappers, and of the underground world of the speakeasies. And she did an excellent, and creepy, job of showing how a mild-mannered, by-the-book person like Rose could fall under the spell of someone who seems to have it all, falling so hard as wanting to be like her. The story is told in first person POV, which is really the only way to write the unreliable narrator. At times, Rose comes across like one of the nuns that helped raise her in the orphanage - cold, unfeeling, unwavering, and frankly, not very nice/likable. At other times, though, her yearning for a good friend (a "bosom-friend" as she keeps referring to Odalie), for a home, for a family, is just heartbreaking. You, as the reader, can completely understand why she does some of the things she does - she so wants someone, anyone, to love her.

A very interesting book, and thankfully, a debut novel. Which means that Rindell will hopefully have many more books to come.

No comments: