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Tuesday 24 June 2014

Review: Suzanne Rindell, The Other Typist

Nowadays, young people writing their first novels seem to do it as an extension of their social networking. This thought occurred to me flicking to the Acknowledgments at the end of Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go - they link her in to well over a hundred individuals, alphabetically listed except for God who gets Liked first.

Suzanne Rindell does not have half as many Links or Likes, but enough for me to feel that at least one of them should have been of more actual help.

Rindells' first person narrator is cast as a police precinct typist in 1920s Prohibition America. She adopts a rather arch tone, is probably mad and certainly oblivious to her own self-serving inconsistencies. For most of the time, she is credible. 

She loses credibility when the author slips into anachronism - or, at least, since I am not an expert on 1920s US urban dialects, what appears to this elderly English reader as anachronistic.

Thus, I was distracted by "white noise" (page 41), "people person" (56), "time-line" (58), "body language" (136), "segued" (137), "trendy" (144), "leveraged" (159), and a "prepubescent" for which I have lost the page reference.

Now it is the job of those who read your novel in draft and get their names in your Acknowledgments to point out things like this and it is the job of the novelist to make sure she finds at least one reader with the necessary ear. Forget about the Links and the Likes, get an Expert.

I was more than distracted when I read, " I remember thinking at the time, aside from the simple fact of our gender, we did not appear to have much in common" (page 46). Now I would bet money that a typist in 1920's Prohibition America would have used the word "sex". It is only in 2010's America that Professors in Literature Departments of US universities (Suzanne Rindell studies in one) have prohibited the use of the word. 

The novel is quite successful and I read it all. The pacing is a bit unsatisfactory - large chunks of new information are hurriedly dispensed in a few pages to be followed by longer sections of longeurs. As a result, the novel did not really build suspense, at least in the mind of this reader. 

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