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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Transcription

  1. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    It’s funny how some books can immediately grab hold of you and cast you under their spell. This is that sort of book. The book immediately transports you back to London in the 1940s and 50s. The language is just spot on perfect. The story revolves around a young woman who is drafted to transcribe conversations among a group of fascists that have been infiltrated by MI5. Juliet is only 18 and before she knows it, has been drafted for some spying in addition to her transcription duties. Atkinson d It’s funny how some books can immediately grab hold of you and cast you under their spell. This is that sort of book. The book immediately transports you back to London in the 1940s and 50s. The language is just spot on perfect. The story revolves around a young woman who is drafted to transcribe conversations among a group of fascists that have been infiltrated by MI5. Juliet is only 18 and before she knows it, has been drafted for some spying in addition to her transcription duties. Atkinson displays a dry sense of humor. “It seemed she had acquired all the drawbacks of being a mistress and none of the advantages - like sex. (She was becoming bolder with the word if not the act.) For Perry, it seemed to be the other way around - he had all the advantages of having a mistress and none of the drawbacks. Like sex.” Poor Juliet is truly naive and I had to keep reminding myself how young she was. She keeps waiting for a romance the reader knows is never going to come. The rest of the characters are equally well drawn. The pettiness, the certainty, all are brought out for our inspection. This is not a fast paced book by any stretch. The writing is meant to be enjoyed, lots of beautiful phrasing. But there is a tension to the book and the ending wasn’t anything I saw coming. “Juliet had the sense that she was taking part in a farce, although not one that was particularly funny - in fact, not funny at all.” But it is, in its own weird way. In this day and age, I’m never sure if I’m seeing symbolism where it doesn’t belong. But it seems fitting that Atkinson picks as her topic the problem of Fascism in England during WWII. “Do not equate nationalism with patriotism,” Perry warned Juliet. “Nationalism is the first step on the road to Fascism.” Or this “Juliet could still remember when Hitler had seemed like a harmless clown. No one was amused now. (“The clowns are the dangerous ones”, Perry said.)” Make sure to read The Author’s Note. What is the nature of historical fiction? There are some interesting ideas here, like what constitutes the real self. Or what’s worth fighting for. “This England”. It’s a book meant to be discussed. My thanks to netgalley and Little, Brown for an advance copy of this novel.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Not all of Kate Atkinson’s novels have been what she calls historical fiction, but the last several have been. This novel may hew closest to the truth, though like she says in the Author’s Note at the end, she wrenched open history and stuffed it with imaginative reconstruction, at least one fantasy for each fact. The author tells us afterward what her intentions were: we have questions—that’s inevitable—and instead of farming out possible answers to various reviewers, she’s just blunt with us w Not all of Kate Atkinson’s novels have been what she calls historical fiction, but the last several have been. This novel may hew closest to the truth, though like she says in the Author’s Note at the end, she wrenched open history and stuffed it with imaginative reconstruction, at least one fantasy for each fact. The author tells us afterward what her intentions were: we have questions—that’s inevitable—and instead of farming out possible answers to various reviewers, she’s just blunt with us what we’d been wondering about. There is something comparable in theatre, when the actors takes off their masks for the final bow and we all celebrate together. Atkinson returns to the Second World War, periodic releases from the National Archives of secrets from that time fueling her creative process. When she discovers [true fact] an ordinary-seeming bank clerk was a major cog in rounding up British supporters of Nazis, her story had a frame. When she discovered [true fact] hundreds and hundreds of pages of transcripts of conversations of dissident groups in London, her story had a heart. What Kate Atkinson does is not necessarily unique (using historical documents to create fiction), but what she does with it is unique. Her style, tone, and characters are recognizably hers. She is funny: one knows there are people out there whose droll delivery of witty responses to ordinary questions is quintessentially British but we don’t come across it enough. Atkinson can do repartee. By now Atkinson may be incapable now of writing a straightforward fiction with a chronological timeline. This novel has only three time periods to work with and really only one central character, which simplifies the action enough that I only had to reread an earlier section once. This was partly due to my surprise, maybe a little resentment, and finally pleasure at being taken out of the action at what seemed like a critical moment…again! She’d done that to me in the previous section as well. I was burrowed in like a tick, and am yanked to a later, earlier, whatever time. Atkinson manages to satisfy and confound a reader at the same time. Atkinson’s characters always have the ‘ghost of Jackson Brodie’ about them. This is a very good thing, considering how much we liked Brodie and wouldn’t mind having him resurrected. We could make the case that the main character in this novel, Juliet Armstrong, is a female Jackson Brodie—honest and therefore vulnerable, she doesn’t have so high an opinion of herself that she is insufferable. In the end she is well able to take care of herself. She’s smart, and a very good liar, but keeps herself a little distant. After all, who can one trust? At eighteen, Juliet is parentless: "her mother's death had revealed that there was no metaphor too ostentatious for grief." Young and alone, Juliet was not, however, callow. She lied like crazy through a job interview with a flippant and overly-inquisitive young man who interviewed her for a job, which she was surprised she got. Later she learned he'd known every lie, and appreciated the ease with which she misled him. This book is about spies, spies working in the service of the British government, or so we believe. What is special is that we see what is British about them—what is ordinary, patriotic, courageous, honorable. But we also see a nation at war and we see duplicity, hunger, ambition, pettiness. Then we lay over that the work of the other nations at war, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and a few exceptional people emerge alive, not unscathed, but breathing at the end. The tension comes when we are not sure who will remain standing. Atkinson writes about the middle of the twentieth century, but she could be talking about the twenty-first: Juliet could still remember when Hitler had seemed like a harmless clown. No one was amused now. (“The clowns are the dangerous ones, Perry said.”) and Do not equate nationalism with patriotism…Nationalism is the first step on the road to Fascism.One always senses the intelligence in Atkinson’s work. She not only writes a good story which means getting the humanity right, she makes us think while we read. She’s unpredictable. And frankly, I like her politics. It’s always a pleasure to enjoy another of her books.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    Juliet Armstrong is only eighteen years old when she is recruited by the M15 in 1940. She is tasked with transcribing the conversations of British fascists sympathizers during WWII. Before long, she is given more duties such as working as a spy herself and watching a dog which is being held for a sort of ransom. Ten years later she finds herself working for the BBC as a radio producer. She appears to have moved on with her life until those from her past come back, reminding her that one can neve Juliet Armstrong is only eighteen years old when she is recruited by the M15 in 1940. She is tasked with transcribing the conversations of British fascists sympathizers during WWII. Before long, she is given more duties such as working as a spy herself and watching a dog which is being held for a sort of ransom. Ten years later she finds herself working for the BBC as a radio producer. She appears to have moved on with her life until those from her past come back, reminding her that one can never get away, and there are spies who spy on the spies, and that past crimes can and will haunt you. The plot shifts around mainly between the 1040's and 1950's with brief time spent in the 1980's The plot shifts around mainly between the 1040's and 1950's with brief time spent in the 1980's. Juliet begins the book as a young woman mourning the loss of her Mother while attending school to learn a trade. She is recruited right out of the school and passes the initial test and is thrown into the world of espionage. "You've come a long way, baby" comes to mind. This is a slower moving book and one needs to really pay attention to detail. I did struggle at times with the slowness. Initially, I really enjoyed the book and then things felt tedious, then things picked up once again. Juliet is also an interesting character. I failed to connect with her and yet I enjoyed reading her thoughts. She had a dry sense of humor and had some witty and insightful thoughts. The other characters in this book had their own sense of humor as well. I do not read a lot of espionage/spy novels and it was nice to see the humor thrown in. As Juliet's job is transcription, the reader gets to see the transcriptions that Juliet has made. I enjoyed this touch even though some of the conversations were mundane. I thought this was a nice way to show that a spy's life is not always exciting and how many spy organizations gather their data. Plus, this is another way of giving the reader a glimpse into Juliet's life, her interactions with others in the M15. Apart from some pacing issues, I was hoping for a little more action in this book. But again, as I mentioned before, this book was dealing with transcribing data so there can't be too much action in that and even the "fight" scene was all very proper. Atkinson's writing is wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed her Author's Note at the end. Don't skip that! I enjoyed this book and appreciated that Atkinson used a female protagonist *ahem* spy in this book. I just wished I connected more with Juliet. She started off as naive and got some maturity and oomph as the book progressed, but I never felt connected to her character. There are quite few characters in this book, but I found it easy to keep track of them. Fans of Atkinson, WWII buffs, and fans of spy/espionage novels will surely enjoy this book. Thank you to Little Brown and Company and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own. Read more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paromjit

    Great historical fiction in the world of British espionage in WW2 and the repercussions that emerge in the 1950s. Touches on issues of class in spying circles, being gay, the monitoring of fascists, a young Juliet, recruited to engage in the process of transcription that develops into so much more. Then some time after the war, Juliet is now a BBC radio producer and sees a familiar face that refuses to acknowledge her leading to the entry of a host of familiar figures from the past. There are so Great historical fiction in the world of British espionage in WW2 and the repercussions that emerge in the 1950s. Touches on issues of class in spying circles, being gay, the monitoring of fascists, a young Juliet, recruited to engage in the process of transcription that develops into so much more. Then some time after the war, Juliet is now a BBC radio producer and sees a familiar face that refuses to acknowledge her leading to the entry of a host of familiar figures from the past. There are so many great reviews on this, so I will limit myself to saying this is complex storytelling that I found thoroughly absorbing, enjoyable and immersive historical fiction.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tammy

    “May I tempt you?” This question is the impetus which shifts a very young woman from a job merely transcribing traitorous conversations deliberately overheard during WWII in London into a bonafide spy. Working at the BBC ten years, later her misdeeds of the past come back to haunt her. For a novel about espionage, I found the characters to be rather dull and the plot lacking in tension.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Atkinson is one of my favorite authors and, with Transcription, she has moved her star even higher. The tale is set in England, primarily London, in 1940, 1950 and 1981. The pivotal events occur in 1940, when Juliet Armstrong at 18, is recruited for the war effort. But not for any battle-related job, no. She is to file and type. Soon she is recruited further as a transcriptionist for an MI5 developed cause, to reel in and control English Fifth Column citizens, those who sympathize with the Nazis Atkinson is one of my favorite authors and, with Transcription, she has moved her star even higher. The tale is set in England, primarily London, in 1940, 1950 and 1981. The pivotal events occur in 1940, when Juliet Armstrong at 18, is recruited for the war effort. But not for any battle-related job, no. She is to file and type. Soon she is recruited further as a transcriptionist for an MI5 developed cause, to reel in and control English Fifth Column citizens, those who sympathize with the Nazis. While the outline of the story may appear relatively simple, in Atkinson’s hands and with her wonderful verbal skills, the tale becomes one of identity in a much-changed world, reality vs multiple other possible realities, issues of truth or whether there is truth, and the ever present layers of deception in Juliet’s new world. As in other of her novels, there are questions of self and reality along the way, though tackled in a more concrete way than the last two novels. These are just some of my favorite lines/quotes scattered throughout the book. Come now, quite enough of exposition and explanation. We’re not approaching the end of a novel, Miss Armstrong. ( loc 4836 ) In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies. —-WINSTON CHURCHILLL ( loc 60) Older men of a certain type were drawn to her. They seemed to want to improve her in some way. Juliet was almost thirty and didn’t feel she needed much more Improvement. The war had seen to that. (loc 152) It was a terrible place really, but she was predisposed towards it. It was a thread in the labyrinth, one that she could follow back to the world before the war, to her self before the war. Innocence and experience butting up against each other in the greasy fug of Moretti’s. (loc 242) That is me, she thought, I am crushed by loss. “Don’t seek out elaborate metaphors,” her English teacher had said of her school essays, but her mother’s death had revealed that there was no metaphor too ostentatious for grief. It was a terrible thing and demanded embellishment. (loc 277) And one final quote. Juliet felt rather ashamed, as her mind had been on what dress to wear this evening rather than bottomless pits of evil. The war still seemed like a matter of inconvenience rather than a threat. (loc 945) I believe these samples give an idea of the spark behind the prose of this novel. Atkinson provides an interesting Author’s Note outlining the inspirations and sources used before imagination and artistic license took over. She also provides a bibliography relevant to the war years, MI5, etc. I wholeheartedly recommend this novel. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ova - Excuse My Reading

    PLease see full review on my blog. I wasn't a fan of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and was hesitant to try this, but after seeing the praises I couldn't resist the temptation of asking the publisher for a copy. This is a book that will take you to 40's and 50's, it's quintessentially British in all levels. I haven't read a more satirical, sharp, enjoyable book that takes place in WW2 so far. This piece of history is clearly something Atkinson excels in, she takes us through the war-ridden London PLease see full review on my blog. I wasn't a fan of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and was hesitant to try this, but after seeing the praises I couldn't resist the temptation of asking the publisher for a copy. This is a book that will take you to 40's and 50's, it's quintessentially British in all levels. I haven't read a more satirical, sharp, enjoyable book that takes place in WW2 so far. This piece of history is clearly something Atkinson excels in, she takes us through the war-ridden London with ease. The people, the events, the conversation, the characters in this book, all 5 stars and I found this book an absolute reading joy, can't recommend enough if you're fan of books that are related to : British, spies, WW2. Thanks for Penguin for sending me a copy of this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Phrynne

    It is always a pleasure to open a new book by Kate Atkinson. I know I am going to find something well written, totally absorbing and above all original. How she does it I do not know. In Transcription she takes us to 1940 World War 2 London, where we meet Juliet, an eighteen year old girl who has just been recruited by MI5. There is a lot more to this Juliet than meets the eye and she continued to surprise me right through to the end of the book. Atkinson writes splendid characters, especially the It is always a pleasure to open a new book by Kate Atkinson. I know I am going to find something well written, totally absorbing and above all original. How she does it I do not know. In Transcription she takes us to 1940 World War 2 London, where we meet Juliet, an eighteen year old girl who has just been recruited by MI5. There is a lot more to this Juliet than meets the eye and she continued to surprise me right through to the end of the book. Atkinson writes splendid characters, especially the eccentric and bumbling upper class British. There is a lot of humour in their actions and in the dialogue. She is also able to create a sense of place and time to perfection. I felt as though I was living and breathing London along with Juliet, Perry (poor Perry!) and the rest. It was so good that I am sorely tempted to go back and reread the Jackson Brodie series, where I discovered Kate Atkinson in the first place.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Trudie

    *2.5* I am having a really bad historical fiction year (looking at you Washington Black). So I was absolutely convinced that dropping all my reading commitments to immediately pick up Kate Atkinson's new WWII spy novel would help raise my spirits. Her previous books Life after Life and A God in Ruins are favourites of mine. I trust her to a deliver a distinct kind of uber- British novel, complete with her rather sardonic humour and droll observations. All of these Atkinson-isms are here, at leas *2.5* I am having a really bad historical fiction year (looking at you Washington Black). So I was absolutely convinced that dropping all my reading commitments to immediately pick up Kate Atkinson's new WWII spy novel would help raise my spirits. Her previous books Life after Life and A God in Ruins are favourites of mine. I trust her to a deliver a distinct kind of uber- British novel, complete with her rather sardonic humour and droll observations. All of these Atkinson-isms are here, at least in part, but the final result is, I am deeply sad to report, a bit of a mess. I am sure Atkinson knows wit is one of her trade marks but she totally over does it here, it loses it's charm. This starts out a very promising espionage novel that ends as farce. I don't recall her other novels being so peppered with asides in parenthesis not to mention the Greek chorus like repetition of text from earlier in the story. This technique not only drove me entirely batty it also succeeded in ousting me out of the story at key moments. An impressive amount of research has gone into this book, particularly the role of MI5 in monitoring Nazi sympathisers ( The Fifth Column) during WWII. I feel like the source material is rife with intrigue and danger but somehow that is not carried over into this story. Many times I considered that I might have been better served by reading a non-fiction account of this era. The sense of the war, the political machinations of MI5 and the various elements of seditious activity became quite lost in this rather curiously light-hearted plot. Was Atkinson trying to show that spy craft was relentlessly dull and often pointless ?. That all MI5 men are essentially interchangeable types and that it is impossible to tell who is spying on who and why ?. If so then this was a success. It hurts me to review this so unfavourably and other fans of Atkinson should not be disheartened as it is entirely possible that I was still suffering a Warlight hangover. The two books share some overlap in a setting of post-war London and espionage as a critical driver however in all other respects they could not be more stylistically opposed. A slight blemish then on my otherwise complete adoration of this author. I now need to go back and reread Life after Life to remind myself how good Atkinson can be.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marialyce

    2 oh my disappointing stars. I do like Atkinson's novels so when this one popped up, I was anxious to begin turning pages. Unfortunately the anticipation for this novel went south as I become bogged down in a uneven plot, and the flipping of time elements. This is a book I should have loved. It had everything, World War 2, a strong intelligent woman, espionage, London, all the things that make for a poignant novel. So, what went wrong? For me, I just could not connect with any of the characters. T 2 oh my disappointing stars. I do like Atkinson's novels so when this one popped up, I was anxious to begin turning pages. Unfortunately the anticipation for this novel went south as I become bogged down in a uneven plot, and the flipping of time elements. This is a book I should have loved. It had everything, World War 2, a strong intelligent woman, espionage, London, all the things that make for a poignant novel. So, what went wrong? For me, I just could not connect with any of the characters. They were choppy figures that seemed to drift about as I wondered exactly why they did what they did. There really didn't seem to be much of a plot and though I am sure Ms Atkinson did her due diligence on the topic, it just fell ever so flat. It was hard for me to maintain attention and though I did skim a bit, and found myself adverse to continuing at times wishing and hoping it would get better. So, for me this novel just didn't come together. I am hoping Ms Atkinson does continue to write for she does it so well. Thank you to my local library for a copy of this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    If you've only read a couple of Kate Atkinson novels, you may think she does just one thing. She doesn't. In fact, I tend to get a little miffed when she sticks with one thing for too long because I want to see her stretch out in every direction. When I started TRANSCRIPTION and realized we were back in WWII (major setting of her last two novels) I thought, "Nooooooooo not again," but I couldn't have been more wrong. This isn't a follow-up to LIFE AFTER LIFE or A GOD IN RUINS in any significant If you've only read a couple of Kate Atkinson novels, you may think she does just one thing. She doesn't. In fact, I tend to get a little miffed when she sticks with one thing for too long because I want to see her stretch out in every direction. When I started TRANSCRIPTION and realized we were back in WWII (major setting of her last two novels) I thought, "Nooooooooo not again," but I couldn't have been more wrong. This isn't a follow-up to LIFE AFTER LIFE or A GOD IN RUINS in any significant way. This, my friends, is a spy novel and a real juicy one at that. But it does have the one Atkinson trademark, where you finish it feeling like you've read a fancy literary novel while still indulging in real genre thrills. We start in 1950 where Juliet is moving towards spinsterhood with a rather dull job producing children's educational radio shows for the BBC. A chance encounter with someone from her past in MI5 sets off a long flashback to 1940. Juliet is barely an adult when she's brought in to do secretarial work for the government as so many women did during the war. She ends up, seemingly through sheer happenstance, taking on a covert job as a transcriptionist, listening in on a British spy who is undercover among German sympathizers. It starts out as dull work but soon Juliet is roped into taking on a larger role in the operation. For a while we move back and forth between these two times, learning more about what Juliet did for MI5 during the war and following her growing paranoia a decade later as she suspects that someone is after her for what she did back then. This isn't exactly a traditional thriller, though the tension is expertly managed, mostly by the way Atkinson toys with the reader. She can turn on a dime, and Juliet's wry outlook on the world provides a healthy helping of humor amid the growing suspense. It's not just a suspenseful spy novel, it's building a whole world for Juliet to live in, which makes the spy part work even better. When you can see all the little players everywhere, you start to wonder if all of them are who they say they are and just what there may be below the surface behind any face, any front door, any shop window. It was a joy to read, I sped through it, and honestly I'm not sure I could have ordered up a Kate Atkinson novel right now that would have hit that Kate Atkinson-y spot so nicely.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    In not a big fan of spy novels, just not my genre, so maybe that was my problem with this book. I really expected to be blown away because, after all, it IS Kate Atkinson, but I never really connected with the main character, or any other character. I truly didn't care what happened to them, and it felt like only half my brain was engaged while reading. Having said that, there were some surprising twists and turns at the end, but, again, I just didn't care.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Burnett

    4.5 stars Kate Atkinson's new novel, Transcription, follows Juliet Armstrong as she works in an obscure MI-5 department during World War 2 that monitors and records the activities of a pro-German group. While the work is initially boring and monotonous, an event occurs that drastically alters the department's work and Juliet's job. Fast forward a decade later, and Juliet is now working for a BBC radio station believing that her past is long behind her. However, as Juliet soon learns, actions almo 4.5 stars Kate Atkinson's new novel, Transcription, follows Juliet Armstrong as she works in an obscure MI-5 department during World War 2 that monitors and records the activities of a pro-German group. While the work is initially boring and monotonous, an event occurs that drastically alters the department's work and Juliet's job. Fast forward a decade later, and Juliet is now working for a BBC radio station believing that her past is long behind her. However, as Juliet soon learns, actions almost always have consequences whether the effect is immediate or doesn't surface until a decade or more later. Atkinson's writing is simply beautiful; her sense of humor is dry and very witty. Juliet has a running commentary in her head that is filled with clever quips and asides. I found myself marveling at the author's ability to tell her story in such a fabulous way. Atkinson also touches on some timely topics such as nationalism versus patriotism and the threat of those who will sacrifice everything for a belief. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this book and did not see the ending coming which made me like the book all the more. It is truly a timely and thought-provoking read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    Oh I had high hopes for this one. A Kate Atkinson spy novel set during World War II sounded like a winning formula to me. Indeed, the reviews of Transcription have been full of praise. But I reckon it is one of her lesser works, not reaching the heights of Life After Life or the majestic A God in Ruins. In 1941, Juliet Stephenson is 18 years old, naive and unsophisticated. Everything changes when she is recruited by MI5. Her new job consists of listening to the recorded conversations of Nazi symp Oh I had high hopes for this one. A Kate Atkinson spy novel set during World War II sounded like a winning formula to me. Indeed, the reviews of Transcription have been full of praise. But I reckon it is one of her lesser works, not reaching the heights of Life After Life or the majestic A God in Ruins. In 1941, Juliet Stephenson is 18 years old, naive and unsophisticated. Everything changes when she is recruited by MI5. Her new job consists of listening to the recorded conversations of Nazi sympathisers and transcribing them for her superiors. Gradually she becomes more involved in the spy world, taking part in some dangerous operations herself. Years later Juliet is working for the BBC when she starts to receive anonymous notes, saying "You will pay for what you did." Just what did she get up to during the war and is her past about to catch up with her? Atkinson has clearly done an immense amount of research for this novel. The transcribed conversations that punctuate the story and the period detail of wartime London all make it feel very authentic. However, I couldn't really warm to Juliet. She proves herself untrustworthy and she can be quite sarcastic, especially in her BBC role. Also, the endless pining for her colleague Perry particularly annoyed me for some reason. Perhaps this is why I found it difficult to become invested in her fate. The number of indistinguishable secret agents that she worked with didn't help things either. But I also think that the story lacks the emotional heft that is a hallmark of Atkinson's best work. Transcription is not a bad novel. There are plenty of secrets and surprises, and the ending is stylishly executed. But for a writer of Kate Atkinson's calibre, I expect a lot more.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    This book is a wonderful mix of spies, counterspies, life in wartime London and the inner workings of the BBC. It's written from the point of view of Juliet Armstong, an intelligent young woman who was recruited by the British Security Service when she was 18. After a while her chief task became the transcribing of secretly-taped conversations between an MI5 agent (posing as a member of the Gestapo) and some English Fifth Columnists who were eager to help the Nazi cause. After the war, Juliet wo This book is a wonderful mix of spies, counterspies, life in wartime London and the inner workings of the BBC. It's written from the point of view of Juliet Armstong, an intelligent young woman who was recruited by the British Security Service when she was 18. After a while her chief task became the transcribing of secretly-taped conversations between an MI5 agent (posing as a member of the Gestapo) and some English Fifth Columnists who were eager to help the Nazi cause. After the war, Juliet worked at the BBC, until her past caught up with her. The book was loosely based on historical records and there is a lengthy bibliography in the book for anyone who wants to read about the actual people and events. The beginning of the book was a little confusing because the author hopped around among several time periods. It became much easier to follow once the story settled into the 1940s. The characters were very convincing, with compelling personalities and secrets. They were also very good at their jobs. I haven't always liked this author's books, but I enjoyed this one very much. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Liz Barnsley

    I am a huge fan of Kate Atkinson’s wonderful storytelling and for me Transcription was a pure joy from the moment I started it until the moment I reluctantly set it aside. The writing is genuinely superb, beautifully done and I adored Juliet, her manner, her acerbic inner dialogue and her highly intriguing yet strangely genteel existence. The setting and the time brought to utterly vivid life, we follow Juliet as she becomes part of the war effort, gets entangled in intrigue and faces unknowable c I am a huge fan of Kate Atkinson’s wonderful storytelling and for me Transcription was a pure joy from the moment I started it until the moment I reluctantly set it aside. The writing is genuinely superb, beautifully done and I adored Juliet, her manner, her acerbic inner dialogue and her highly intriguing yet strangely genteel existence. The setting and the time brought to utterly vivid life, we follow Juliet as she becomes part of the war effort, gets entangled in intrigue and faces unknowable consequences years later. The pace is sedate yet entirely compelling, Juliet is incredibly engaging and the lines between fact and fiction blur into one addictively riveting tale. Transcription is a literary delight, a tranquil pond in the middle of a storm, often unexpected, emotionally resonant and pitched perfectly throughout. I loved it, the ending had me teary eyed and this is one of those books where I know I will miss those fictional yet honestly authentic characters for months to come. Magic. Highly Recommended.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Canadian Reader

    Espionage would probably not make my top ten list of things to read about, or even my top 100 list for that matter, so I approached Transcription with a certain wariness. The fact that it is authored by Kate Atkinson was probably the only thing that motivated me to read it in the first place. The novel opens in 1981, “the year of a royal wedding,” with 60-year-old Juliet Armstrong falling down on a London street. Preoccupied with thoughts of her 26-year-old son and having lived abroad for many ye Espionage would probably not make my top ten list of things to read about, or even my top 100 list for that matter, so I approached Transcription with a certain wariness. The fact that it is authored by Kate Atkinson was probably the only thing that motivated me to read it in the first place. The novel opens in 1981, “the year of a royal wedding,” with 60-year-old Juliet Armstrong falling down on a London street. Preoccupied with thoughts of her 26-year-old son and having lived abroad for many years, she likely hadn’t looked in the right direction for traffic and has been hit by a car. After this, Juliet’s story shifts back 30, then 40, years. The 1950s segment also unfolds on a London street. Taking a lunch break from her job at the BBC, Juliet chances upon a man she’d known quite well during the war—a fellow spy, in fact—who now completely denies having been acquainted with her. The 1940s section, which is a great deal longer, explains (among other things) how Juliet first came to know that spy, Godfrey Toby, alias John Hazeldine. Early on, Atkinson gives us a little of her protagonist’s background. We learn Juliet was raised by a single, dressmaker mother, that she’d been a bright girl and a scholarship student of some promise, and that everything had changed for her at 17 when her mother died. Forced to shift for herself, Juliet went on to attend a second-rate secretarial school. With the outbreak of the Second World War, she hoped to be accepted by the ATS, the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British Army. Instead, she is called to a strange interview, which she inexplicably lies her way through (even about apparently inconsequential matters, such as her favourite painter), and is signed on by the Security Service— MI5, Britain’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency. She is soon selected by the famous Peregrine Gibbons for a special intelligence operation that is to unfold in Dolphin Square, a large block of private flats (in Pimlico) built in the mid 1930s, shortly before the time of the main action of this story. Juliet will eventually become a full-fledged spy herself. It’s quite a long time since I’ve read an Atkinson novel and I really don’t recall her writing being so fluffy and flippant. I found Juliet an annoyingly frivolous and lightweight protagonist for whom I could not summon up even minimal interest. I felt I was given entirely too many of her punning and sardonic asides, which quickly wore thin. There is also a glut of period details, which some may regard as producing a more authentic piece, but which I just felt bogged down by. One-third of the way through, I bailed. I was sick of Juliet. I didn’t care what became of her. I feel a certain sadness at leaving behind a once-favourite author, but I didn’t like A God in Ruins either. Something has changed, and it may be me. I am grateful to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC. This is a book I would certainly have regretted spending money on.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    3.5 stars A low key, at times almost boring spy novel. I seem to be incapable of not liking a Kate Atkinson book though. I love her books for their immersive historical background, humor and vividness of characters.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tami

    “Who spies on the spies...?” I love a good spy novel and this one was a good one, even if it did have a bit of a slow start. Juliet Armstrong, a young woman with no family, finds herself recruited into M15, the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency. Beginning in the boring atmosphere of filing and secretarial work, she is soon moved to an apartment building where her job is to listen to recorded tapes and transcribe the dialog into reports. Eventually Juliet is sent out into the f “Who spies on the spies...?” I love a good spy novel and this one was a good one, even if it did have a bit of a slow start. Juliet Armstrong, a young woman with no family, finds herself recruited into M15, the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency. Beginning in the boring atmosphere of filing and secretarial work, she is soon moved to an apartment building where her job is to listen to recorded tapes and transcribe the dialog into reports. Eventually Juliet is sent out into the field posing as another person in order to infiltrate an organized ring of traitors and Hitler sympathizers. It’s at this point where the story really gained some momentum. We hear Juliet’s story from the time frames of 1940, 1950 and 1980. Other characters weave in and out of her life and soon it’s obvious that it’s not a good idea to trust that anyone is who they say they are. It was a nice change to read a WWII novel that did not have anything to do with the concentration camps. I also liked the idea of having an inside look into the world of spying and double agents. Many thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for allowing me to read an advance copy and offer my honest review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    ❀⊱Rory⊰❀

    4 Stars. Superb writing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    As a first comment I could not help, as a mathematician a certain enjoyment of a book set around the second World War; the third novel in a row that the author has set around that time; using her now familiar technique of blending a plot heavy and enjoyable story with a literary technique that pretty well does away with the fourth wall; and in this case with a move into the world of espionage which includes the Fifth Man; which gives her plenty of scope for clues, asides and obfuscations which s As a first comment I could not help, as a mathematician a certain enjoyment of a book set around the second World War; the third novel in a row that the author has set around that time; using her now familiar technique of blending a plot heavy and enjoyable story with a literary technique that pretty well does away with the fourth wall; and in this case with a move into the world of espionage which includes the Fifth Man; which gives her plenty of scope for clues, asides and obfuscations which set ones sixth sense on alert from the opening of the book; albeit I cannot pretend to have been in seventh heaven reading it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    But then what constituted real? Wasn't everything, even this life itself, just a game of deception? 3.5 stars. Kate Atkinson's previous two novels, Life after Life and A God in Ruins are two of my all time favorite books. In these her writing was fantastic and the plot lines were innovative and thought provoking. Because of this, I think my expectations were too high, as I was expecting more of the same in Transcription, but this is more of a traditional spy story. The writing is still superb and But then what constituted real? Wasn't everything, even this life itself, just a game of deception? 3.5 stars. Kate Atkinson's previous two novels, Life after Life and A God in Ruins are two of my all time favorite books. In these her writing was fantastic and the plot lines were innovative and thought provoking. Because of this, I think my expectations were too high, as I was expecting more of the same in Transcription, but this is more of a traditional spy story. The writing is still superb and I loved Juliet's very dry and often sarcastic sense of humor. I enjoyed that a lot of the spy stuff was quite mundane and everyday, which is probably true in real life. A very well written novel, but without the emotional impact of her previous HF books. The Story: Juliet Armstrong is recruited as a young woman by an obscure wartime department of the Secret Service. In the aftermath of war she joins the BBC, where her life begins to unravel, and she finally has to come to terms with the consequences of idealism.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Susan Johnson

    Atkinson returns to WWII again for her newest novel but it is not a sequel to her wonderful A God in Ruins book. In this one, 18 year old Juliet is hired to be be a spy for MI-5 but not a glamorous one. She sits in a small apartment transcribing conversations of British citizens who think they are reporting to a German spy. They are traitors but on such a small scale that it is almost laughable. The story flashes between 1940 and her activities and 1950 where she has become the producer of dull Atkinson returns to WWII again for her newest novel but it is not a sequel to her wonderful A God in Ruins book. In this one, 18 year old Juliet is hired to be be a spy for MI-5 but not a glamorous one. She sits in a small apartment transcribing conversations of British citizens who think they are reporting to a German spy. They are traitors but on such a small scale that it is almost laughable. The story flashes between 1940 and her activities and 1950 where she has become the producer of dull BBC stories for schoolkids. It is alarming for her when some of the people she worked with in the 40's start making appearances in her new life. They don't deal directly with her and, at times, deny they know her. The juxtaposition of the two time periods keeps the story taut and tantalizing. Atkinson admits she made up most of the history but her research is so good that you never know which are real facts and which are fiction. It is irrelevant because the points she is making are the ones that are important. It is alarming how much rings true to our political situation today. Two points that really stood out to me are: Juliet could still remember when Hitler had seemed like a harmless clown. No one was amused now. (“The clowns are the dangerous ones, Perry said.”) and Do not equate nationalism with patriotism…Nationalism is the first step on the road to Fascism. Now who does that sound like? It's chilling. This book cries out for a discussion. I would love to sit down with a group of friends discussing this book. It is a book that was meant to be talked about and shared. I would love to know what others thought about several of Juliet's kinks. I can't wait until there is a group discussion I can join. Thanks to Net Galley for a copy of the is book in exchange for a fair review.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Thebooktrail

    Visit the locations in the novel Hitler was collecting countries like stamps. How long before he had the full set? This is a snapshot of history inspired by a series of transcripts the author discovered. In fact there is one line in the book uttered by Juliet which sums up this novel for me : “History should always have a plot .... How else could you make sense of it?" For Juliet is recruited into the world of spies and intrigue with MI5 and her job is to transcribe meetings between an agent workin Visit the locations in the novel Hitler was collecting countries like stamps. How long before he had the full set? This is a snapshot of history inspired by a series of transcripts the author discovered. In fact there is one line in the book uttered by Juliet which sums up this novel for me : “History should always have a plot .... How else could you make sense of it?" For Juliet is recruited into the world of spies and intrigue with MI5 and her job is to transcribe meetings between an agent working under cover as a Fifth Columnist and the various fascist agents he comes into contact with. This is a fascinating part of history and one I’d not really heard that much about. Entering this world and seeing it through the eyes of the various players was a treat and you can feel the research and author interest oozing off the page. Never does it get in the way of the story though - that’s Atkinson’s trademark after all - top class research, complex issues and an easy to read treat of a novel. What made this novel for me was the humour - wry and caustic at times - "'Hypocaustum from the Ancient Greek - hypo meaning beneath and caust burnt. Which word do you think we get from that?'  'I have no idea,' she said, caustically." Linguists will love this - word play, editorial jokes and those war time transcripts which fuel the behind the scenes of wartime. I’ve transcribed many meeting notes myself as a translator but never quite as interesting as these. To have them dotted throughout the novel, in a different font and set out as if they were inserts in a history book, is also something history buffs in particular will appreciate. It all works really really well even if I did think Juliet seemed very naive for working in the foreign office and for ...well life in general at times. There wasn‘t quite enough novel to go round either - so much complexity there, research, war time intrigue but I felt the novel was too short and I was left feeling there should have been more. It was fourth gear rather than fifth. Kindle or e-readers should perhaps be prepared to take a few notes as the timeline does move around and flip back and forth quite a bit and with the transcripts too, it might be tricky to keep track of some threads. Don’t be tempted to read the author note beforehand though as that’s a story in itself! There’s so much scope in this world and I hope Kate Atkinson returns to it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Melanie (Mel's Bookland Adventures)

    I absolutely loved this. This is my third novel by her and the third one I absolutely adored!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Kate Atkinson did not disappoint. Her writing is honed to perfection. This provocative, imaginative and well-written story keeps Atkinson right up there with my favorite authors.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Kate Atkinson is one of those writers I'll read as soon as possible. Her plots, always well researched and filled with vibrant characters, hold my attention, even when, as here, comparisons to her early works causes the present one to pale somewhat in comparison (what I've come to call the "Zadie Smith syndrome"). Still this, her take on a historical espionage novel set in London during and after World War II, has enough twists and jogs worthy of the Todd family saga. She has said she'd like to Kate Atkinson is one of those writers I'll read as soon as possible. Her plots, always well researched and filled with vibrant characters, hold my attention, even when, as here, comparisons to her early works causes the present one to pale somewhat in comparison (what I've come to call the "Zadie Smith syndrome"). Still this, her take on a historical espionage novel set in London during and after World War II, has enough twists and jogs worthy of the Todd family saga. She has said she'd like to revisit some of her earlier, beloved characters (Brodie, the Todd family), and I'm hoping she'll add Juliet to that list.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Hitler was collecting countries like stamps. How long before he had the full set? Transcription by Kate Atkinson I was swept into Transcription, enthralled with Kate Atkinson's atmospheric and witty writing, the recreation of England during the rise of Hitler, and the espionage ring with its vivid characters and uncertain alliances. The novel opens in 1950 with twenty-eight-year-old Juliet working in post-war London for the BBC. "There was a better life somewhere, Juliet supposed, if only she could Hitler was collecting countries like stamps. How long before he had the full set? Transcription by Kate Atkinson I was swept into Transcription, enthralled with Kate Atkinson's atmospheric and witty writing, the recreation of England during the rise of Hitler, and the espionage ring with its vivid characters and uncertain alliances. The novel opens in 1950 with twenty-eight-year-old Juliet working in post-war London for the BBC. "There was a better life somewhere, Juliet supposed, if only she could be bothered to find it." Transcription by Kate Atkinson Julie fingers her necklace of pearls, which she admits she took off a dead woman who was heavier to lift than she looked. We learn that Julie tells lies to strangers. She sees a man she used to know by two names, who tells her "I think you have confused me with someone else." And in a local cafe, a strange man observes her "in a way that was extremely disconcerting." Julie reflects on her time with MI5 during the war ten years previous, when she was a transcriptionist typing recordings of traitorous conversations. Juliet's life working for MI5 alternates between boredom and mystery. She is never completely filled in on the operations, merely does as she is told. She drifts along with whatever comes, even into a mock engagement with a coworker who shows no physical interest in her. She is given a fake identity as part of a sting operation. She is a natural liar and playactor. The future of England at stake, with Fascists sympathizers and Communist sympathizers and loyal royalists endeavoring for the prize. This England, is it worth fighting for? Transcription by Kate Atkinson The novel ends with unexpected turns of events. "It was all such a waste of breath. War and peace. Peace and war. It would go on forever without end." Transcription by Kate Atkinson I am so happy to have finally read Atkinson. I can't wait to get a hold of her previous books. I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I received a copy of this from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Kate Atkinson is excellent at creating characters who inspire devotion even when the story she's telling about them is not that great. This is a tough book to review for me because I was slain by Atkinson's previous WWII-era novels and I wanted to love this so badly and it just was not of the same caliber, but I'm disoriented at the realization that while Juliet Armstrong's work for MI5 and her life after the war never advanced in I received a copy of this from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Kate Atkinson is excellent at creating characters who inspire devotion even when the story she's telling about them is not that great. This is a tough book to review for me because I was slain by Atkinson's previous WWII-era novels and I wanted to love this so badly and it just was not of the same caliber, but I'm disoriented at the realization that while Juliet Armstrong's work for MI5 and her life after the war never advanced into amazing reading territory and was in fact a bit repetitive, I could have read several more mundane chapters about her and Toby Jug and Cyril and Perry and all of that with no problem. But heaven save me from that twist ending, for which there was no justification whatsoever.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Simona

    In the core of this spy novel is the question of the identity, lies and consequences - sacrifices and beliefs in the name of patriotism. Do not expect some crazy actions, because this is a very atmospherical story about crazy pre and post war time. I devoured this book in two sitting, It’s a good combination of seriousness and wittiness, and despite that this isn’t a perfect story - is well worth reading.

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