I was writing a dissertation on literature and culture of the 1920’s and came upon an obituary of a woman who had worked as a typist in a police precinct during Prohibition. Her life as I imagined it intrigued me, and soon after finding the obituary I began hearing the voice of Rose, my narrator. The dissertation was meant to be academic in nature, so I really sort of went off the beaten path when I decided to “listen” to Rose and write the novel.
Rose is a wonderfully formed and multi-faceted character and her loose relationship with the truth makes her a disconcerting and unreliable narrator. Was this your original intention?
Part of the reason I was so keen to write the book and pursue Rose’s story was because right off the bat, I could tell she had a warped sense of the world around her. I thought it would be fun to pit two opposing concepts against one another by putting this emotionally damaged woman in the role of a typist, thereby challenging our assumptions that legal transcription is somehow above the influence of human bias – as Rose proves, it isn’t!
The sinister undercurrents of Rose`s relationship with and fixation on the divine Odalie drive the plot and keep the readers on the back foot. How clearly was this relationship set in your mind before writing or did you just decide during the writing process to make it a good deal more unsettling for us?
I suppose in the beginning, I simply had an image – or impression, really – of these two women in mind. On the surface of things, I wanted Rose and Odalie to be opposites and to have these superficial differences drop away as the novel goes on. I knew Odalie I needed to use Odalie as a sort of decoy in order to tease out Rose’s complexities, but that was all. I let the rest unfold of its own accord.
The ending was defined by its ambiguity and I appreciate we cannot reveal it here! Was this another ruse to play with the reader`s minds?
I think it was a result of following the plot through to its unraveling point. I wasn’t trying to trick anyone so much as feel my way to a point of resolution. Without giving anything away, for me, the ending was not so much about Odalie’s lies or Rose’s lies to other people so much as it was about revealing all the many ways in which Rose has lied to herself.
The atmosphere, settings and whole feel of this period is wonderfully evoked throughout. Apart from F. Scott Fitzgerald`s The Great Gatsby, what other specific authors provided your influence?
Because I had been studying the period, I had a pretty sizable store of research to draw upon. I had freshly read all sorts of wonderful authors who artistically shaped that era – Hemingway, Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Pound, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Parker, Radclyffe Hall, Michael Arlen – popular and critically acclaimed authors alike. Then there are other research details; like, for instance, that I collect Vogue magazines from the 1920’s. Those were great fun to skim through when getting in the mood to write. Everything from the articles to the advertisements was useful in getting the period right.
It was great to see the male characters only bathed in the reflected light of and at the whim of the very strong female protagonists, even down to their being referred to initially by their job titles- the Lieutenant etc. Why did you decide to do this and what has been the general response?
I suppose that choice was an extension of how I imagined Rose would see the world around her. In the beginning of the book, she’s very into formalities, and would favor titles over first names. She’s also emotionally isolated in a lot of ways, and leery of men. In terms of response, I had a lot of readers – including my editor – tell me they wanted to see Rose be more kind to the Lieutenant Detective in general. I tried once or twice to rewrite those scenes, but Rose simply wouldn’t play nice, and I realized it was part of her arrested development. She’s cruel to him the way little girls on the playground can be reflexively mean to boys who like them. She doesn’t possess the emotional confidence to move past this basic state of insecurity.
How closely involved will you be with the film adaptation of The Other Typist? As a reader I’m already picturing certain actors in the main roles so will be fascinated to see the final cut…
I get excited every time I hear from the people over at Fox Searchlight, and so far they have been very kind to keep me posted as things develop, and to ask my opinion about casting and writers. I’m very curious to see how the screenwriter they choose will adapt the end of the novel.
I’m working on a second book, and hope to have it edited soon!
New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin. Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid. But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession. But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out?
Although not strictly speaking falling under the mantle of crime fiction, I think that The Other Typist has more than enough touches of the criminal for inclusion here. Charting the day to day existence of the Rose Baker, a typist within a police precinct on the lower East Side in the 1920‘s, and the effects of her friendship with the gregarious Odalie- the other typist of the title- what unfolds is a tale of betrayal and murder with more than a twist or two along the way….
What I really liked about this book was the way that Rose’s dull, sepia-tinged life merely pivoting between the intensity and masculine world of the police department, and her down-at- heel lodgings with a war widow and bitchy room mate, is suddenly infused with colour and excitement. Her, at first, tentative friendship with the sparkling Odalie, is hampered by Rose’s very stiff and prudish attitudes to the world in general which leaves those who interact with her as perceiving her as something of a cold fish. However, as she gets sucked in deeper to Odalie’s less than legal after hours pursuits, and finds herself immersed in a world of parties and gaiety, it soon becomes obvious to us just why Odalie is so eager to court Rose’s friendship- despite their very obvious differences-and that Rose may have a very different side to her character after all…
From the outset this novel is incredibly engaging, plunging the reader headfirst into the very contrary environments in which Rose and Odalie’s friendship begins to take root. I found the depiction of their work life in the police department- taking notes and observing police interviews to type in endless reports- especially well-realised, stressing that they may only be lowly typists, but that their experience of the world within these confines was so exceptionally different to most women’s lives in this period. There is at the beginning, a tangible atmosphere of trust between themselves and the central male figures in the police department- the Sergeant and the Lieutenant Detective- although Rose remains startling blind to her physical effect on the latter and treats him with utter disdain, as gradually the symbiotic relationship between police officer, typist and suspect is put under the microscope. As we discover by some of Rose’s actions later in the book, this relationship can be manipulated in many ways, and not everyone is beyond reproach, or as good at reading the other’s motives as they should in fact be, leading to a powerful denouement between the central characters.
As Rose and Odalie’s friendship blooms, Rindell unfurls a world of speakeasies and lavish parties, set against this time of Prohibition, that captures the sense of time and place perfectly. As Rindell acknowledges her writing is undoubtedly influenced by Fitzgerald, and one scene in particular at a weekend house party, smacks of Gatsby, but with the assured touch of an author assuming the style but not directly copying it. Particularly within the backdrop of this world, largely alien to Rose, the diametrics of her friendship with Odalie become incredibly interesting, as Odalie manipulates and courts the affections of Rose, inveigling her in a world of excess, frocks and louche behaviour that ends in murder. But all is not as it appears, and there is more to both women than meets the eye. I loved the characterisation of both women, who are fundamentally opposite, but linked in an insidious and ultimately destructive way. The increasingly unreliable narrative of Rose, lends a deeper sense of mystery to the whole affair, that cleverly plays with the empathy of the reader as your loyalties switch constantly between them.
I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of twisted loyalty resulting in murderous betrayal. From the perfect capturing of the period, to the locations, to the characterisation and the wonderfully placed reveals, this was a deeply satisfying read and I have no hesitation in recommending this to any reader who appreciates well written and sophisticated fiction, with a dark sting in the tale…
Follow the rest of Suzanne Rindell’s blog tour using the links below:
January 16th- NOVELICIOUS
January 17th- THE BOOKBAG
January 18th- RAVEN CRIME READS
January 19th- LEELEE LOVES
January 20th- READING IN THE SUNSHINE