Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

This book seems to reflect what undercover work in wartime must have been like. Much drudgery and the occasional drama. Yet when you have a cast of characters as well developed as this and Atkinson's flair with luring the reader in via a chopped-up timeline, your curiosity is piqued.

Juliet works for MI5. Sounds glamorous, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Her job is transcribing conversations between a British agent posing as a German spy and a gaggle of humdrum Nazi sympathisers. Recruited by Peregrine Gibbons, she half hopes he’ll try to seduce her, but he’s got other ideas. The job is dull and monotonous, leading her to wander down thought processes at her own received expressions.

The narrative flits back and forth between the 1940s and the post-war period when Juliet is working for the BBC. Ghosts from the past reappear and she begins to realise that she can never truly leave it all behind.

Juliet is a character one warms to, if slowly. She’s pragmatic, given to fanciful whims but essentially rolls up her sleeves and gets on with the job.

Each character reflects that wartime sense of no one being who they pretend to be and the fa├žade is flimsy to the point of transparency. Everyone knows everyone else is lying, hiding and deceiving, but determined to get on with it anyway.

This is a different Atkinson to Jackson Brodie or Life After Life, yet still with the sparkling wit, light touch with deep characters, atmospheric evocation of time and place, underpinned by a resigned fatality.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: A God in Ruins, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters or Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

Avoid if you don’t like: Detail of transcribed conversations, changing timelines, London in wartime

Ideal accompaniments: A strong cup of tea, some hot buttered toast and Vera Lynn’s version of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

Available on Amazon

You’ll enjoy this if you liked:

Avoid if you don’t like:

Ideal accompaniments:

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