Book Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; 368 pages; $25.95).
“They said the typewriter would unsex us,” Suzanne Rindell writes in her dark and arresting debut The Other Typist. A typewriter “is a stern thing, full of gravity, its boxy angles coming straight to the point, with no trace of curvaceous tomfoolery or feminine whimsy,” completely masculine. Although there is nothing feminine about a typewriter, the device has typically been used by women.
The typist in danger of being unsexed is Rose Baker, Rindell’s main character who is accused of a crime she claims not to have committed and deemed mad. Her narrative consists of a journal she is keeping for her doctor, slowly clueing us in on the reason for her institutionalization.
A typewriter excuses nothing. With the “sheer violence of its iron arms,” it strikes “at the page with unforgiving force.” Women tend to be more forgiving than men, but “forgiving is not the typewriter’s duty,” yet another example of its innate maleness.
In the 1920s, the setting for Rindell’s tale, women were not supposed to be violent criminals. Men committed crimes; women, with their “delicate” sensibilities, cared for their husbands, bore and nurtured their children, and maintained the home. But Rose is not the typical 1920s woman.
There is one crucial element about Rose that you need to know: she is an unreliable narrator. Come on, no human can possibly type 300 words per minute. You cannot trust anything she says, making her a thrilling and unforgettable character. Rose, a consummate liar, will surely remind readers of Amy from Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster bestseller Gone Girl. Rindell’s narrator also shares many of the same qualities as Grace from Charlotte Rogan’s absorbing novel The Lifeboat. Like Amy and Grace, Rose is an unknown, unknowable, and enigmatic character; you learn to expect the unexpected from her rather early on in Rindell’s novel.
The anticipation builds as Rose grows increasingly obsessed with Odalie, her fellow typist at a police precinct in New York City’s Lower East Side. For Rose, Odalie is “sweet nectar” she cannot help but succumb to. She is drawn to Odalie, like an “insect drawn to his peril.” Rose’s fixation on Odalie reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s cunning novel The Talented Mr. Ripley.
“A lying criminal always trips himself up (or herself, I suppose, rare though that alternate scenario may be) either giving too many details or else revealing the wrong ones,” Rindell writes. In this way, the author slowly and shrewdly reveals the truth, and it is both surprising and extraordinary.
In Rindell’s expert hands, the budding science of criminology and history merge to create an atmosphere reminiscent of the period.
New York City in the 1920s comes to vivid life as Rindell recreates the jazz-age period of flappers and Prohibition and throws in decadent parties (think The Great Gatsby), moonshine, and speakeasies. The experience is a grand and heady one that always keeps you engaged and guessing.
You are powerless to fight the pull of The Other Typist. It is just impossible. The Other Typist ensnared me from the first page and never let me take a breath until I closed the book. Rindell may be a rookie, but she possesses an inherent knowledge of storytelling. Easily my favorite mystery novel of the year, The Other Typist held me in its suspenseful grip, and I was content to abide in its clutches. This novel is so shocking you’ll have to force yourself to close your mouth when you read the last page.
The Other Typist is a book and not a steak, but it’s juicy and appealing. One taste and you are want more and more and more. Rindell successfully creates two remarkable women who seize our attention, stun us, and make us fans for life.
Keira Knightley to star in and take a producer’s role on the jazz-age period piece, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
It is unknown which of the two main characters she will play.
Who do you see Knightley as: Rose or Odalie? And why?