The Other Typist – Suzanne Rindell

They said the typewriter would unsex us.

But if you need a job, you need a job and Rose Baker, orphan, needs a job regardless of whether it’s seen as acceptable in 1920s New York or not.

Rose works at a police precinct in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, taking the confessions of suspected murderers:

As a moral person, I do not relish hearing these gruesome details, although I would be loath for the Lieutenant Detective to perceive my discomfort, as he would surely see it as evidence of my weak and womanly stomach. I assure you my stomach is not weak on this score.

She lives in a boarding house in Brooklyn, run by a young widow with four small children. She shares a room with a shop girl named Helen who dates and gossips and likes nice clothes. The antithesis of Rose, they have a somewhat fractious relationship.

But Rose’s life is about to change in a very dramatic way when a new typist is hired for the pool at the precinct.

I recognized something was happening the very second she walked in the door for her interview. On that particular day, she entered very calmly and quietly, but I knew: It was like the eye of a hurricane. She was the dark epicenter of something we didn’t quite understand, the place where hot and cold mixed dangerously, and around her everything would change.

Rose, fascinated with the new arrival, begins keeping a diary of Odalie’s habits, conversations and movements – how she takes and drinks her tea; the way she behaves in the presence of the Lieutenant Detective; how and what time she enters their workspace; what she keeps in her handbag…

Meanwhile, rumours circulate about Odalie’s background:

“I heard she went out to California with a fella, but he showed her all about how he had a right hook like Jack Delaney. So she stole his money and ran away.”

“I heard she was in a moving picture once. She danced on top o’the table with Clara Bow.”

“I heard she was a gangster’s girl.”

In a matter of months, Rose and Odalie are firm friends and when Rose returns to the boarding house early one day to discover Helen has been reading her letters, it makes perfect sense that she move in to the hotel suite in which Odalie lives.

By now, you’re possibly thinking one of two things, either: this doesn’t quite add up, or: this sounds a bit similar to The Great Gatsby.

Rindell acknowledges ‘…there are one or two moments…wherein I humbly aspired…to pay deliberate homage to the first true love of my teenage years: Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby’.

The Other Typist shares some themes with The Great Gatsby: the corruption underlying the supposed glamour of The Jazz Age; the glamourous host; the unreliable narrator, but by changing the gender of the narrator and protagonist and placing the story predominantly in a police station, Rindell brings the more licentious aspects of her tale to the forefront.

If you enjoy an unreliable narrator and an ambiguous ending that will leave you wanting to question and discuss everything you’ve just read, The Other Typist is the book for you. Just make sure someone else you know is reading it too so you can pick over it together when you’re finished.

 

 

Thanks to Penguin for the review copy.