Monday, 5 August 2013

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell | The Great Gatsby reimagined

I keep picking up books set in the 1920s. As in Z: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, The Other Typist, Suzanne Rindell's debut novel deals with the roles of women, and especially nervous woman, in the wake of Prohibition in America.

The novel is to a large extent an homage to The Great Gatsby, and we do not have to look further than to the unreliable narrator Rose Baker to see the similarities. Rose works as a typist at a police precinct in New York. The most exciting events in her life is minutely recording the confessions of the criminals that are arrested or interrogated at her precinct. But Rose's life will change drastically the day Odalie Lazare starts working as a typist as well. Similar to Jay Gatsby, Odalie is mystical and irresistibly attractive in our narrator Rose's eyes. At once both repelled and drawn in by Odalie's glamorous person, Rose keeps a keen eye on all of Odalie's moves, until the happy day that Odalie invites her into her confidence. But unbeknownst to Rose, Odalie has plans of her own, and being Rose's bosom friend might only be a step to a darker goal.

Similar to Nick Caraway, the narrator in The Great Gatsby, our narrator Rose suspects that Odalie's wealth has come to her through not entirely honest endeavours, and Odalie, similar to Jay Gatsby, has a habit of spinning fantastical tales about her past. As Rose and Odalie grow closer, the picture of Odalie, who she is and where she comes from, start taking shape. But Rose, however, as Nick Caraway, is also not a reliable narrator. She tells us she's keeping a diary, but we are only prone to selected entries, and Rose admits that in the writing, she was also selective as to what she put down. Later on, there is an incident where Rose oversteps in her position as typist, and fabricates a confession to ensure that a suspect is finally convicted. The further we get into the narrative, the more we realize to what extent Rose cannot be trusted.

Although not trustworthy as a narrator, Rose is naive and easily taken in by Odalie's charms. Abandoning all her previous reservations, Rose becomes involved in Odalie's flapper lifestyle and finds herself sharing Odalie's luxurious hotel apartment. Rose absorbs Odalie's looks and behaviour, striving for Odalie's approval and attention. And although Rose deep down knows that Odalie has ulterior motives for everything she does, and can point out when Odalie is manipulating someone to get her way, Rose is unable or unwilling to detach herself.

The Other Typist is a well-written, well plotted novel. I thoroughly enjoyed Rose as an unreliable narrator, and I love love loved the dark undertones running through the novel. The novel explores how fascination can turn to obsession, and obsession to madness. The ending is deeply ambiguous, which makes me love it even more.

And more to look forward to - Keira Knightly to star in the movie adaption of the book:)

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