Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: The Typewriter Girl

The Typewriter GirlAuthor: Alison Atlee
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books

A passionate historical debut novel about a young woman in turn-of-the-century England who finds love and independence at a seashore resort.

In Victorian London, there’s only so far an unmarried woman can go, and Betsey Dobson has relied on her wits and cunning to take herself as far as she can—to a position as a typewriter girl. But still, Betsey yearns for something more…so when she’s offered a position as the excursions manager at a seaside resort, she knows this is her chance for security, for independence, for an identity forged by her own work and not a man’s opinion. Under qualified for the job and on the wrong side of the aristocratic resort owner, Betsey struggles to prove herself and looks to the one person who can support her new venture: Mr. Jones, the ambitious Welshman building the resort’s pleasure fair. As she and Mr. Jones grow ever closer, Betsey begins to dream that she might finally have found her place in the world—but when her past returns to haunt her, she must fight for what she’s worked so hard…or risk losing everything.

This eloquent debut novel displays firm propriety barely restraining seething passion—a sizzling combination reminiscent of Downton Abbey.

“Type-writer girls, they oughtn’t think too much.” – Paperback Copy pg. 1

“‘A girl like you’ meant what he knew of her, that she wasn’t like the other type-writers, a girl helping out her family till she married. She was older (four-and-twenty now), unmarried supporting herself: peculiar. And of questionable morals, of course. The story of her expulsion had only confirmed the suspicions.” – Paperback Copy pg. 8

“Such a sky. The widest she’d ever seen. Even more than the long bow of the shoreline and the eternal spread of the sea, it was the sky Betsey could not fold into her understanding, the cliffs and hillocks of the land overturned, sculpted into the stony clouds and softened with the promise of light.” – Paperback Copy pg. 43

“Betsey half-listened as Mr. Jones explained his errand and her identity. With increasing panic, she looked into the parlor at her left, which, with the dull light from the overcast day and the absence of any occupant, should have seemed forlorn. It didn’t It looked inviting, and…pretty. Pretty green wallpaper and hooked rugs and gilded picture frames, groupings of pretty chairs for conversation, a pretty bowl of peonies sitting on a cottage piano.” – Paperback Copy pg. 46

“Unfortunately, she needed the cooperation of a moonfaced prick.” – Paperback Copy pg. 75

“She’d thought she’d kept her expectations reasonable, her hope grounded. But her disappointment exposed the fact that on some level, she’d been wanting too much, spinning fairy tales for herself.” – Paperback Copy pg. 203

Betsey Dobson is well past the usual age of marriage, is underqualified and has no job as of late, but yet she is still determined to be viewed as an equal in a man’s world. Betsey seems to find trouble wherever she goes, or maybe it just finds her. Left all alone and without a steady income or a steady companion, Betsey sets out in search of a new life on the London train from Idensea. Little does she know that her life is about to change. On her train ride journey she meets a man called Mr. Jones and his immediate connection to her inspires him to hire her on as the tour manager for the Idensea Pier & Pleasure Building Company. Betsey begins to finally believe that her feminist dreams and aspirations are about to become a reality.

Betsey’s character was at times highly motivational and I can really admire her stubbornness. Her luck, on the other hand, seemed to be always in the gutter. Betsey was not your average woman of the times. At twenty-four she was not married, had no children, and held no constant job. None of this seemed to bother her, and all she could ever ponder on was her desire to be set apart from everyone else and to be recognized for her skills, abilities, and talents. I can admire all of this in her character and I did. I loved her ambition and drive. It is not something that you see all the time in lead female roles. I also loved how beautifully flawed she was written, and I also hated it at the same time. Allow me to explain myself. Betsey had no regard for her body and the sex scenes often bothered me at times. I almost felt as if she were an oxymoron; wanting to make a name for herself in a man’s world, while allowing them to have their way with her at times. It was a small flaw and I understand that it makes a character, but I just hated envisioning her character this way.

The setting, however, I loved! A seaside resort was the perfect getaway for an avid reader like me as I have always been fascinated with places like Maine, New England, and Coney Island. And even though this particular book is set in England, these places are the first ones that came to mind while reading. The descriptions of the setting are just absolutely gorgeous, and I pulled out one of them in my quotes above. Betsey adjusted to her new scenery quite nicely and I think the beautiful cover of this book helped me relate to the setting and to Betsey a little bit more. Another of my favorite aspects was the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. The quotes are actually pieces of advice from book called How to Become Expert in Type-writing, which I believe is actually a real book. These simple sentences just helped pull the book together and were a nice finishing touch.

This book was an interesting debut from Alison Atlee. I am curious to see what she comes out with next. Her take on historical fiction was different from any other that I have read. She invited me into a world that to the outside looked simple and carefree, but from the character’s perspectives was quite the opposite!

***A copy of this book was generously provided to me by the publishers at Gallery Books in exchange for my honest and unbiased review***

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