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Merle

Merle

The Other Typist - Suzanne Rindell This is one weird book. For about the first 60% it was feeling like the best I’d read this year, but having finished, my feelings are mixed.

The narrator, Rose, works a typist in a New York City police precinct in the 1920s. When the precinct starts cracking down on speakeasies, a new typist is hired: the glamorous Odalie, who seems to be Rose's opposite in every way. Rose is an orphan who rents half a bedroom at a cheap boardinghouse and lives a solitary life, and she quickly falls under Odalie’s spell, though she realizes Odalie’s behavior deviates from her own strict sense of morality. To say more would be to spoil it; though between the extensive foreshadowing and reading reviews beforehand, I found the story to develop as I’d predicted it, the plot still kept me enthralled.

So, the good stuff. The book is very well-written, with a strong voice, and the obvious unreliability of Rose’s narration is engaging and keeps the reader guessing. The author keeps the tension simmering even through fairly mundane events, and while the pacing is on the slow side, it fits the story well. Rose and Odalie's relationship rings true, though it's evident from the beginning that it's not as healthy as Rose would like to believe. It’s quite an atmospheric book, bringing Prohibition-era New York to life: the speakeasies of course are fun, as is seeing how the police station operates.

The characters and settings are vivid; I’m inclined to call the book cinematic, although not in an entirely complimentary way: with the exception of Rose--who has enough complexity to share--it never felt like there was much to the characters beneath the surface. Even Odalie seems more glamor than substance, although perhaps that’s intentional: she’s likely sociopathic, incapable of affection, remorse, or change, and therefore inherently hollow.

Unfortunately, some of my interest was lost when Rose and Odalie spend several chapters vacationing at a socialite couple's seaside mansion; I find rich people throwing parties to be one of the most boring subjects ever, although I realize that’s idiosyncratic and if you’re interested in this book for the Great Gatsby-like setting, it won’t bother you in the least. And then there’s the ending. It’s a puzzle, and if you like endings that throw the entire book into question, you’ll eat it up. As for me, I prefer the sort of unreliable narrators who allow readers to figure out what’s going on by reading between the lines, and the possibility that Rose was delusional or lying the entire time just left me baffled. Neither of the most obvious explanations for the book really make sense. One is that Rose and Odalie were either the same person all along or that Rose made Odalie up. Which I don't much like because it throws out the entire story, most of which is about Rose and Odalie's relationship, and much of it featuring the two of them in the company of others, who do in fact behave as if there are two different women there. The other is that the story did mostly take place as Rose narrated it, and Odalie set Rose up. But then, how to explain those weird scenes where Rose seemed to be turning into Odalie? And if Rose's face was splashed all over the newspapers as "Ginevra"/Odalie, surely someone who knew one or the other would've come forward to point out the mistake.

In the end, I’m glad I read this, because it’s well-written and I found the story and its narrator captivating. And I would read another book by this author--I just hope it makes a little more sense!