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.
I 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…
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?