They said the typewriter would unsex us.
"Rose Baker seals men’s fates. With a few strokes of the keys that sit before her, she can send a person away for life in prison. A typist in a New York City Police Department precinct, Rose is like a high priestess. Confessions are her job. It is 1923, and while she may hear every detail about shootings, knifings, and murders, as soon as she leaves the interrogation room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for filing and making coffee. This is a new era for women, and New York is a confusing place for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. All around her women bob their hair, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. Yet prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her childhood. When glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under Odalie’s spell. As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully into Odalie’s high-stakes world. And soon her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover."
It seems to me that The Other Typist had Gatsbyian ambitions: it's set in the 20's, and is the story of a startlingly new and different person with a troubled past who comes into the narrator's life and shakes it up dramatically. Rose will never be the same again, and she writes reflectively, like Nick Carraway. Of course, The Other Typist is not on the same league. It was a pretty good novel though. I wasn't incredibly interested in the story, but it kept me entertained pretty well throughout.
The writing and the premise were both pretty good, and it was followed through well too. I loved the narration and the language, and the 20's is certainly a period I'm interested in. It was much, much better than The Diviners and Silhouette of a Sparrow, the other non-classic works set in that period that I've read recently.
I enjoyed the two main characters and how the relationship between them was portrayed. Rose herself is kind of vain about her intelligence; she boasts about her typing skills and her observational skills quite frequently. But she's also a pretty compelling character.
The narrative is told in retrospective as I mentioned. Rose keeps dropping hints about what her current situation is. I won't give anything away, but it is kind of infuriating. The reader picks up these little things about how her life has been changed by Odalie, and possibly ruined forever.
The typist is one of those fairly obsolete jobs which tend to get forgotten. But Rose and the other typists must hear first-hand about all sorts of gruesome crimes, which would normally not reach the "delicate" ears of ladies. The 1920's is also a very popular time to set female fiction because there were two modes of existence clashing head-to-head; the Victorian, prudish standard, and the new flapper era, in which women were allowed to be much more loose. Odalie belongs to the latter class, Rose more to the former (although she's not as bad as other characters).
The Other Typist proceeds at a slow pace, but once I got into it, I found it fairly compelling. Rose's narration was interesting and infuriating with all of her references to the present, and Odalie was certainly a fascinating character full of contradictions. I didn't trust her at all, and as the book progressed, I disliked her more and more, but I did want to find out more about her. Odalie was basically a manipulator. I also kept wanting Rose to be a little less trusting. She is uneasy, to be sure, but she goes along with practically everything Odalie suggests. Odalie is just that charismatic. I do think the author could have chosen a better name than Odalie. It's hardly what one would expect for someone as glamorous as the character is.
There wasn't too much description, but just enough to bring to life the lush world of the 1920's, full of speakeasies and daring women. The Other Typist is a novel edged with unease, and I would definitely recommend it.
Disclosure: I received a review copy from Putnam.