I recently spotted this book in my local library and recognised it immediately, as it’s been sat in my amazon wishlist for yonks. I have no idea why I put it there or when, but I decided to give it a whirl.
The book is set in New York in the 1920s, and is narrated by Rose, a self-proclaimed “plain” orphan. She works in the police precinct, typing up the statements of all sorts of unsavoury characters. This doesn’t bother her, she tells us, as she is “largely indifferent to the content of the confessions”.
Her narrative style reflects her character – very proper and quite formal. She comes across as quite innocent and, in keeping with her appearance, lives a very plain and simple existence in a room she shares in a boarding house. Early on in the book, we hear about the landlady and her roommate, Helen, and Rose certainly seems difficult to get on with.
Then disrupting Rose’s simple daily life comes Odalie, who gets a job as another typist at the precinct. She is mysterious, glamorous and exotic – everything, in fact, that Rose is not. Rose watches on disapprovingly as Odalie befriends the other typists at the precinct, before seemingly setting her sights on Rose – who is all too pleased to become a part of Odalie’s exciting lifestyle.
It becomes increasingly apparent as the book goes on that Rose is in fact quite an unreliable narrator, and is also hiding an angry, opinionated personality underneath her more staid outward character. She seems to be a quiet outsider when she befriends Odalie, visiting speakeasies and eventually moving in together, but forms strong opinions on those around her and we as readers have to start to question what she says and thinks. We also, as the book is looking back at past events, get hints of what is to come in the book and we know that Rose’s cold outward demeanour is soon to be shattered, and that she ends up having to see a doctor after these events.
I loved the setting of this book – New York in the 20s is evoked very well and the speakeasies the characters visit remind me very much of the film Some Like It Hot, when the characters visit a very sombre funeral parlour, only to enter the wild party behind closed doors. This comes across really well in this book, as do the outfits and styles of the times. There are few characters in this book and, seen through Rose’s eyes, we get an insight into their distinct characters but have to form our own opinions on them as the book goes on and we start to question Rose’s views more and more.
The main theme of this book is Rose’s growing interest – and obsession – with Odalie, and in this way the book reminds me very much of Notes On a Scandal, where the book’s narrator, Barbara, becomes obsessed with the life of fellow teacher and friend Sheba. This growing obsession was quite creepy in some ways, but Odalie is not an innocent party by any means – again, similar to Sheba in Notes…
The real talking point of the book is the ending – which sadly I can’t talk about too much here without giving anything away! But it is certainly an ambiguous ending and it does leave the reader having to make up their own minds about what has really happened in the novel.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. I liked the setting of New York in the 20s and I enjoyed the point of view of the unreliable narrator. However it does drag a little at times, and the ending may frustrate some who like all loose ends neatly tied up!
My rating: 7/10