Transcription by Kate Atkinson


Having enjoyed several of her previous novels, I was very excited earlier this year to hear that a new Kate Atkinson novel was on the way, and Transcription became one of my most eagerly anticipated books of the year, so needless to say it was pushed straight to the top of the TBR when it was published this month!

‘Yet suddenly it all seemed like an illusion, a dream that had happened to someone else. What an odd thing existence was’

In the opening pages, taking place in 1981, we are introduced to Juliet Armstrong, a sixty year old woman who is contemplating her own mortality, whilst looking back at the life she will leave behind. And this life was certainly a fascinating and eventful one. With chapters alternating between two different timeframes, we see Juliet in the 1940’s, as she is recruited by MI5 to transcribe messages and recordings of meetings between a group of fascist sympathisers. In the 1950’s we see Juliet working for the BBC, during which time she encounters a man who revives her memories of her previous life, as she contemplates the lies told during the war, and the potential consequences to her as she resumes her new identity. And it is this matter of truth and lies, and the consequences of the past which make up the key themes in what is an intriguing read which quickly grabbed my attention, and left me questioning who could be trusted, and how events unfold for these characters throughout the war and in its aftermath.

I have loved several of Kate Atkinson’s books and as with her previous work I really enjoyed the style of the writing and the way in which it captured the sense of time and place, creating an intriguing narrative surrounding the lives of spies during the Second World War. The characters’ stories were compelling, and told with plenty of emotion and humour which was also the case with its portrayal of ordinary life in Britain. The plot moves at a steady pace, with a growing feeling of tension as the reader is left doubting how events would develop, and I was hooked till the end. The alternating timeline works well in weaving together the two strands of the narrative, as we see how Juliet becomes entangled in a web of lies as she plays her part in the war effort, finding herself in a complex world in which there are plenty of surprises along the way. I was also interested to read that some of the characters in this book are inspired by true events, with Atkinson first being inspired to write Transcription having read MI5 documents in the National Archives. It is clear that this is a story that is well researched, and there was an authenticity to the writing and the characters voices which was a joy to read.

I really enjoyed Transcription, and found it to be an intriguing story of espionage with a fascinating cast of characters. It is a novel which explores the significance of identity and of truth and lies, and the line between what is real and what is fictitious. And as we return to Juliet in 1981 in the closing pages, we are left to consider the power of memory, the importance of our actions, and the lasting impact made by a life.

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