Summer Book Club Week 4: The Other Typist

Guidelines for the Summer Book Club: if you’ve read this book, what did you think?  If not, what are you reading this week? Please comment, or post on your own blog and link in the comments below.

theothertypistI had issues with Suzanne Rindell’s The Other Typist It appears that I liked it, because I finished it.  I have no compunction about abandoning books if I don’t feel more driven to finish them than I do to, say, watch another episode of House.  I was driven to finish this book, but all along the way, it bothered me.

I was bothered by the occasionally on-the-nose dialogue, by the broad everyone’s-a-villain characterization, which is equally broadly complicated by our early understanding that our narrator, Rose, is not reliable. Characters burst out with proclamations like

Now, Rose, that’s not called for.  Best to mind your own business, else people might get the wrong idea about you and the Sergeant.  Don’t tell me they neglected to impart a proper sense of professionalism to you at the typing school…

or

I can assure you, Rose, no one will give you trouble about your breeding here.  I can see that even though you are just a woman, you know very well how to make yourself useful, and your industriousness will not go unappreciated in this office.

To be fair, there are clues that not all the dialogue is truly taking place. Rindell uses quotation marks in some spots and yet italicizes dialogue in others, as if to show us that the italicized dialogue might or might not be in Rose’s head.  (Or it might just be that dialogue in flashbacks is italicized to distinguish past from present.  I still hadn’t figured this out by the end of the book, and this also bothered me.)

Rose herself is sometimes exasperating in her attempts to win us over.  The seams in the author’s craft are visible, as though she wants us to notice how cleverly her narrator has been constructed.  For example, Rose shows us bits of her diary, an effusive and painstaking list of the charms and foibles of Odalie, the titular “other typist.”  These snippets are full of superlatives and exclamation marks, like a twelve-year-old’s descriptions of  her crush, but Rose then insists that there is “no great anomaly in my interest, only in my methods.” The story is full of these moments that fairly scream “I am self-deceptive! Look how self-deceptive I am, and how aware I am of my own self-deception!”, and they were jarring to me.

It wouldn’t be difficult to render these thoughts and conversations more artful, and therefore more satisfying.  Rindell does so elsewhere.  For example, in an early memory, Rose reports an overheard exchange in which the milkman describes why he doesn’t flirt with her as he does with all the other girls in her residence: “There’s something not right about that one…Can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it’s like the milk: Even when it’s not yet spoiled, you just know when it’s getting ready to go off.”  Not subtle, but nicely put.

Enough about what I didn’t like.  (I won’t get into the ending.)  The fact is, these moments of awkwardness bothered me because they pulled me out of an absorbing story.  It’s 1923.  (I’ll stop saying I’m not a fan of historical fiction; this clearly is no longer true.) Rose is a typist at a police precinct, and when Odalie is hired to join her, Rose becomes obsessed with her.  Odalie becomes her “friend,” and draws her into an unfamiliar world: speakeasies, lavish hotel rooms, beach holidays at grand estates on Long Island.  Of course, Odalie’s motives are suspect, not only to us but also to Rose, who can’t extricate herself despite her doubts.  What will become of them both?

When I found out…well, like I said, I won’t get into the ending.  (I’m not sure whether the problem is with it or with me.) Nevertheless, it’s a good ride, and I closed the book wondering if I should reread it someday to see if I can understand its story and techniques better.  This would suggest that I trust Rindell enough to doubt my own criticisms; in fact, I wish I could write such a compelling story.  My nit-picking may be jealousy.

I’ll read Rindell’s next novel.  If you like a fun, creepy, plot-driven thriller, you should probably read this one.

*

Also read this week: Drama by Raina Telgemeier (a graphic novel about a middle school theatre production; lovely) and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (loved it; might write about it later, so won’t say too much.)

Have you read The Other Typist, or either of the other two books I read this week? If so, what did you think?  If not, what are you reading this week?

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7 responses

  1. I have not read this novel-or even heard of it. The inconsistencies that bothered you would pull me out of the story as well. I really like to be absorbed into the story and forget I am reading! This summer, I am re-reading some novels from the past. I finished I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and will write a post on it soon–and will share when I do. What I am re-reading now is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. I have read this series before, and I wrote my review. http://learnmoreeveryday.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-trilogy-a-review/

    What is surprising me is how engaged I am the second time around. Sure, there are always nuances to notice on re-reads. But this 3-book story is a who-done-it–and I know the answer, so I was not expecting to get as caught up in the tale this time around. But I did. The characters are quirky but well-developed. They seem like someone you would meet on the street or at least notice; some you might decide to avoid. The intricacies of the plots hold up well, even when I know the end of the maze. If you have not read these books, give them a try. The author died before the trilogy was published; I find myself once again saddened that I will not be able to read anymore work by this talented author.

    Happy Reading!

    • Patti: thanks for sharing! I read TGWTDT a number of years ago, and then took a stab at the second book in the series, but I kept waiting to be sucked in and I wasn’t. I gave up not far into the second book. I really wanted to be swept away in the way you describe, but it wasn’t happening! I think I’m a victim of the desire to like someone, anyone, in the story; I know this is a bit unsophisticated, but in the end, I just didn’t find myself caring about what happened to these people.

  2. My library is ordering this book for me. Martine of the I make podcast is reading it, too. I enjoyed your thoughts on the work. I am rereading Wodehouse this week. I love Bertie Wooster, the most lovable unreliable narrator that I have come across.

    • MR: Wodehouse is another writer whom I keep telling myself I should love; I go back to him again and again but I get a number of chapters in and don’t feel inclined to go on. I’ve tried him in audiobook form, too, and it just doesn’t work for me. Lately, I’ve been considering tracking down the Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry TV series to see if that does it for me. I have this problem a lot: I want to love an author or a series, because then there’s so many books to enjoy, but I can’t find an entry point. I will probably attempt him again sometime in the future; I have a feeling if I hit on his books at just the right moment…

  3. I have not read that one but have seen it at the library. I just finished Shalako by Louis L’amour (1962). I always think I have read all his books, then I see another one! Next up: The Ogallala Road–a Memoir of Love and Reckoning (2014) by Julene Bair.

    • Rayme: Louis L’Amour is an author I’ve been meaning to try one of these days! I’ve never had the slightest interest in Westerns, but I’ve always had the feeling he might be an exception for me.

      • Louis L’Amour is funny because he had such a simple style, and sometimes it comes across as very cliche, but I always keep in mind that it wasn’t cliche at the time it was written —I think he probably started the cliches. There are films of many of his books, and if you don’t enjoy western films, you might not enjoy the books. Some are better than others, but I find something to enjoy in each book. Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage is something else to try if L’Amour doesn’t work for you. My librarian sister and I got it as a CD for a road trip and we loved listening to it.

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