THE NO.1 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER BY AWARD WINNER KATE ATKINSON
'An unapologetic novel of ideas which is also wise, funny and paced like a thriller' Observer
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 for ever.
Ten years later, now a 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 this country’s most exceptional writers.
'How vehemently most novelists will wish to produce a masterpiece as good' Telegraph
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
German sympathisers in 1940s London weren’t just ferocious fascists and brilliant double agents. The movement’s backbone was bourgeois housewives and average tradesmen focused on preserving the status quo. It’s into this consciously dull network that 18-year-old Juliet Armstrong is first drafted to be a spy. Following days of clerical drudgery and nights prowling the streets during blackouts, Juliet’s ambitions for “real” espionage work are fulfilled…in ways she can’t shake, even decades later. In her 10th novel, Kate Atkinson returns to the world of World War II, proving her singular talent for writing historical fiction that makes us forget we’re not reading an eyewitness account.
Atkinson's suspenseful novel (following A God in Ruins) is enlivened by its heroine's witty, sardonic voice as she is transformed from an innocent, unsophisticated young woman into a spy for Britain's MI5 during WWII. Initially recruited to transcribe secretly recorded conversations between British fascist sympathizers who think they are conspiring with the Gestapo, Juliet Armstrong is one day given an infiltration assignment (and a gun), during which she discovers an important document and just like that, she becomes an undercover agent. Her growing realization of the serious nature of what at first seems like an "espionage lark" is made more intriguing by her attraction to her enigmatic boss. Juliet finds herself running a safe house for a Russian defector until the war's end, after which she lives in an unspecified location abroad for decades. It's in the 1970s that agents return and insist that she get back in the game as a double agent, and she realizes there's no exit. If Atkinson initially challenges credibility because Juliet slides too quickly from being a naive 18-year-old into a clever escape artist and cool conspirator, her transition into idealistic patriot and then ultimately jaded pawn in the espionage world is altogether believable. The novel's central irony is that the desperation for victory in a noble cause later becomes tainted with ruthless political chicanery. The book ends on an uncertain note for Juliet, a poignant denouement for this transportive, wholly realized historical novel.