The Transcriptionist

Rowland, Amy. The Transcriptionist. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2014.

Lena is a transcriptionist for New York’s newspaper, the Record. She sits in a lonely room transcribing stories for reporters who call in with all kinds of different stories. Lena’s personal story centers on the mystery of an unknown woman mauled to death in a lion’s den at the Bronx zoo. Three things capture Lena to the point of obsession: the woman is blind, this was an apparent suicide, and Lena thinks she met this woman before. While Lena is fascinated with the story, no one else is. She is shocked by her employer’s complacency. No one cares why this unknown woman did what she did, so Lena sets out to discover the truth. In the process Lena rattles life as she knows it. The proverbial bars of the cage have been flung open.
My one fault with the book – there were a few unbelievable scenes. I am assuming the lion didn’t maul the woman’s face and her autopsy photo is the one the newspaper used for the article. Here’s why: because if no one knew her identity they couldn’t have used a picture from an earlier time. Another bothersome moment – Once Lena learns the identity of the suicide victim, she knows where she lived and that she had a sister. Lena takes it upon herself to visit the woman’s apartment (walks right in!). There, in the decease’s apartment, is a recording of the truth. Wouldn’t the sister have found that first? Wouldn’t there have been a more thorough investigation? It’s not every day that a blind woman swims across a moat to reach a lion’s sanctuary and then lets one (a lion named Robert) devour her.
The best part of the book is the message it sends. Everyday news stories swirl around us and roll off our consciousness like beads of oil on water. Nothing sinks in or settles on our souls. That goes for the consumers of the news as well as the people who create it. We all need to rattle cages and break free from complacency.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing

Author fact: This is Rowland’s debut novel.

Book trivia: Publish date: May 13th, 2014.



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