Wednesday, August 13, 2014

THE OTHER TYPIST by Suzanne Rindell

Rose is a stenographer and typist for a New York City police precinct in the 1920s.  When the Prohibition Era dawns, her workload increases, and a new typist, Odalie, captures everyone’s attention, especially Rose’s.  Odalie is everything that Rose is not—daring, beautiful, and rich.  Soon Rose moves in with Odalie in her opulent hotel suite, but theirs is a very one-sided relationship, with Odalie paying all the bills and introducing Rose to hidden speakeasies and chic house parties.  Like Nora in Claire Messud’s The WomanUpstairs, Rose becomes totally bedazzled by her new friend.  She abandons all of her scruples in order to impress and satisfy Odalie.  The source of Odalie’s wealth could be a sugar daddy or family money or bootleg income.  When a young man claims to recognize Odalie from Newport, Odalie becomes visibly agitated.  The author frequently reminds us that Rose’s world is about to explode, because we know that she’s recounting all this from an institution, under the care of a psychiatrist.  I found this constant foreshadowing to be a little annoying and unnecessary.  I realize that the author uses this device to build suspense, but the plot is suspenseful enough, as we try to figure out who Odalie really is.  The ending, however, raises a bigger question:  Who is Rose?  Is she really so malleable, or does something darker lurk inside her?  I would rate this book with 5 stars if the ending were not completely undecipherable.  I would call it ambiguous, but that word implies two possibilities, and the ending of this book has at least three.  I imagine that this novel makes for an excellent book club discussion, with everyone sharing and defending his/her interpretation of what really happened.  I’m afraid that I don’t have a staunch opinion, as all scenarios seem to have their contradictions.  Reviewers have compared this novel to several others, but Rindell has taken the idea of an unreliable narrator to an extreme unmatched since Ian McEwan’s Atonement.


Elizabeth said...

I loved this book even though the ending drove me crazy trying to figure out what happened.

I think one thing and then say, no, it has to be this. :)

I don't think anyone really knows.

This is a sign of a GOOD book.

Kris said...

Funny, I almost got this book the other day, but the mixed reviews put me off. Any book that keeps me wondering at the end usually wins me over, especially with an unreliable narrator. Can you share more without spoiling? Is the end an authorial cop out, as if she didn't know how to end it and just left it, or does the open ending accomplish something?

PattisPages said...

Kris, I think you would like this book. The ending is definitely not a copout. I'm sure the author planned this ending from the book's inception. With some books I do feel that the author has painted herself into a corner and just leaves you hanging at the end. That is not the case here. The ending does accomplish something: it makes you want to reread the book to see if you can pick up any clues. The ending also reflects on the mental stability of the narrator. I hope this helps. Maybe Elizabeth has something to add. Thanks to both of you for commenting!

Elizabeth said...

I don't think it was an authorial copout.

It was just so good that you want to keep rehashing and rehashing to try to figure out who was who. :)

I still haven't figure it out, though. :)

I loved the book.