Book Review: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Name:  Transcription
Kate Atkinson
Number of Pages:
  337 (Hardback)
September 6th 2018 by Transworld Publishers Ltd
Genre:  Historical


In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever.
Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.
Transcription is a work of rare depth and texture, a bravura modern novel of extraordinary power, wit and empathy. It is a triumphant work of fiction from one of the best writers of our time.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

1940 – Juliet Armstrong, aged 18, is recruited to transcribe recordings of conversations between an MI5 officer posing as a Gestapo agent and a group of Fascist sympathisers.
She later becomes something of an active agent herself, going into the society of these people in order to observe and eventually help to trap them.

1950 – Juliet works for the BBC producing radio programmes, but her past hasn’t quite left her behind as she encounters a man she knew in her espionage days who denies knowing her, and it seems that someone knows something about the past that Juliet may not want revealed and may put her in danger.

Some books just grab you from the outset and won’t let go, and for me Transcription was one of those books.
The setting, the atmosphere, the secrecy, the masquerading spies , the double agents, the bluffs, the covers, the danger, everything about this book gave it such atmosphere and I wanted to read on to find out exactly what was going on.
The writing is really something to savour. I’ve never read anything by Kate Atkinson before, but if all her books read like this one I’ll definitely check some of them out.

Juliet has such a strong voice throughout. From her naïve romantic imaginings regarding her colleague Perry – attractive, older, more worldly, and pretty enigmatic – to her observations and asides which give access to her inner workings in a world where knowing too much about a person could put them in danger, I loved it all.
Her warmth, humour and unflappable nature made her really memorable.

The characters surrounding Juliet are also well developed. I especially liked Perry, and the highly mysterious Godfrey Toby, the man posing as the Gestapo agent in order to extract information from the sympathisers.
The sympathisers themselves are bought to live via snippets of the transcriptions that Juliet types up, often making up her own words where something renders the actual speech inaudible.

The narrative is intriguing, and the switch between 1940 and 1950 leaves you with a sense of anticipation for what lies ahead in both time frames. Mystery and intrigue drive both narratives onward towards a conclusion I never saw coming.

Transcription is a real reading pleasure – memorable characters, the wit of the writing, a sense of secrecy and drawn out tension, and I enjoyed every page. Anyone have any recommendations for which Kate Atkinson book I should check out next? I think I have Life after Life on my e-reader, so maybe I’ll start there.

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

  1. Rachel - What Rachel Did says:

    I loved the beginning of this book but really wasn’t keen on the last third – I thought the twist was really implausible and I felt like she couldn’t make her mind up about whether the book was literary fiction or a thriller. But it has got me started reading Kate Atkinson – A God in Ruins is great, and I’m going to read Life After Life soon too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amanda says:

    I’m excited to read this! I really enjoyed Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Life After Life is amazing and has really stayed with me (the follow-up though I couldn’t get into and stopped quickly). Hope you enjoy!


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