American,  Crime fiction

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

I requested a review copy of The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell after Naomi from The Writes of Woman reviewed it and we had a very interesting conversation about feminism . A quick search reveled the Twittersphere was full of great reviews as well and being it a mystery with women as main characters, it took me a few minutes to make up my mind about it.

From Good Reads:

New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin.

Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid.

But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession.

But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out?l

The Other Typist is the kind of book you would better not know anything about before you start reading. I avoided any reviews or even the praise from the jacket because I wanted to be caught by surprise by everything and luckily, it worked! So, this review will be SPOILER FREE.

I found Rose’s point of view extremely appealing, especially since I love postmodernist literature. For better or for worse, I try not to take my narrators very seriously because everyone has their own point of view and although it’s unique and highly valuable, it is also subjective. We cannot help to see events filtered through past events and emotions and it is very difficult – I’d say probably impossible – to gain distance from that point of view. So, if as Good Reads points out “Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell”, how did it happen? And most importantly, why? As I want to avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it for you to hint the answers to these questions.

A remarkable thing about the book – one I didn’t realise well until the end – is that the typography. If you’d ever owned a typewriter you’ll be familiar with it. I personally attended some typing lessons (thanks, Dad!) before I was bought my first computer and I really connected with everything Rose describes: the continuous and rhythmical sound of the keys that give the machine its own heart, the smell of the ink, the slightly deformed paper after you take it out of the roll and most importantly, the almost impossibility to correct a mistake. I think nowadays we are so used to correct and re-elaborate a text while we write… But about typists back in the 1920’s? They were trained to avoid mistakes, to be precise, quick and do their jobs as quietly as possible. Somehow, they were another machine – an idea Rose points out a few times throughout the novel – trained to work on a typewriter. Read if for yourself:

When a woman fails at her profession  it is considered something rather different from when a man fails at his. (p.13)

We [typists]  are thought to be mere receptors, passive and wonderfully incapable of deviation. (p. 48)

So, The Other Typist is a mystery and psychological novel, clearly influenced by another great American novel (Can you guess which?)  that haunts some of the scenes and characters. But above all, The Other Typist provides the reader with a not so well-known point of view: working women in the 1920s. It is not very often that we get a look to the pre-1940’s world from a feminine point of view, yet, there were many women making a living for themselves at a time when the USA struggled to become a moral compass. I haven’t given too many thoughts to whether The Other Typist is a feminist novel – feminist in a Lady Macbeth way, like Naomi said – but I think it deals with an important part of feminine history. The Roaring 20s were more than rouge a levres, new haircuts, parties held from the bathroom and dancing on fountains for many women who struggled to make ends meet.

Hurry up to read the novel before the film adaptation comes out next year.



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