Rose works as a typist in a shabby police precinct in 1920’s New York City. She’s made a lifetime of being plain and unremarkable, stiff and Victorian and out of place thanks to her upbringing by nuns in an orphanage. All this changes the second that the glamorous and mysterious Odalie joins the staff at the precinct as a typist.
It doesn’t take long for Rose to become obsessed with Odalie, nor for the two of them to become roommates. Soon Rose is pulled into Odalie’s world of speakeasies, dark secrets, and shady dealings.
Rindell spins out tension masterfully. Certain facts about Rose fall into place one by one–that we are in the future, that she is seeing a doctor who wants her to write these events down, and that Rose has done something for which she feels she must defend herself. All the hallmarks of an unreliable, unsettled (and unsettling) narrator. You also learn a lot about Odalie, and are uncovering clues and lies just as Rose does about her rather dark past.
What I like about Rose is that she’s unlikeable from the outset, more than simply just being plain and misunderstood. Because she’s so unreliable you have to read between the lines to decide whether she’s truly nuts or not. The epilogue raises a few questions and confusions about the story and the ending, such that you can decide for yourself what’s going on with stolen identities and personal obsessions and secrets. Rose is a wonderful, strange character at odds with her time and place, and it comes through in much of the narrative.
The atmosphere and sense of place are both incredible in this novel–1920’s New York comes alive. There’s more than one nod to works like The Good Soldier (is Rose crazy, or a betrayed person worthy of our sympathy?) and The Great Gatsby (Odalie is, in many ways, a female Jay Gatsby). The writing gets more intense and compelling the further into the story you go.
Right off the bat this reminded me of Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh in terms of the narrative style and our narrator’s personality. I also thought of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, and, of course, The Talented Mr. Ripley. I think The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters might also appeal to people who liked The Other Typist, if you particularly enjoy the atmosphere and relationship between Rose and Odalie. Give The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald a try (or a re-read!), too, if you enjoyed this book.