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Transcription (2018)

by Kate Atkinson

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1,582918,023 (3.69)162
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.… (more)
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English (89)  Piratical (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (91)
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Let's start under the knowledge that I am usually a big fan of Kate Atkinson's work but with this book I found myself completely non engaged. The cast of characters are generally unlikable which would be fine if the plot carried them along but it doesn't it meanders slowly along towards a final twist which was well done and took me by surprise but not enough to make up for the previous 300 odd pages. This is most definitely not another life after life. ( )
  Bluechew | Nov 15, 2020 |
I would like to have finished this novel and I had been looking forward to my first Kate Atkinson novel. But listening to it as an audiobook (Fenella Woolgar), I couldn't keep track of the story or see what the plot was if any. So I gave it up after 3/11 parts. But I will try again with Ms Atkinson and Ms Woolgar.
  Okies | Nov 1, 2020 |
Interesting novel that turns out to be a bit of a mystery. Atkinson bases her story on actual operations by MI5 during WWII, taking the general idea and processes but making up the rest.

Young Juliet Armstrong is recruited into MI5 to work as women often did work, in a secretarial capacity. She is given the job of transcribing meetings held by an agent with Nazi sympathizers in Britain ("fifth columnists"). The agent poses as a Nazi spy, obtaining information about British actions from the sympathizers. The meetings are held in an apartment while Juliet works next door in an adjacent apartment.

Juliet has a handler who is somewhat difficult to get to know. Young as she is, Juliet lets her imagination bring the two of them together in some sort of unlikely relationship. And he does grow fond of her.

Gradually Juliet learns more about both men: her handler and the agent next door.

Later in life, after the war, Juliet comes across the agent and he behaves as if he has never met her. Why should this be? This is only one of the mysteries hidden in this enjoyable and intriguing story. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Well I did not see that coming! A strange plot to this novel. We meet Juliet Armstrong and flit between 1940 and 1950 with hints at something sinister. In 1940 Juliet works for M15, typing the transcripts from meetings with British Fascist sympathisers. Things become more complicated and there are many characters who are not what they seem. In 1950 Juliet works for the BBC and the past bumps into her again. Well researched and an interesting topic. ( )
  Tifi | Sep 4, 2020 |
Few of the characters in ‘Transcription’ by Kate Atkinson are who they seem to be. A novel of the Second World War, ‘Transcription’ suggests that the ripples of wartime secrecy spread out through the following years so that outstanding lies and betrayals are eventually repaid. Many years later.
In 1940, Juliet Armstrong intends to join one of the women’s armed forces when she receives a letter on government notepaper and is summoned to an interview. After being informed by telegram that she has got the, still unspecified, job, Juliet boards a bus which takes her to Wormwood Scrubs prison, now converted into government offices. There she works in Registry, shuffling files around, until Perry Gibbons says, ‘I need a girl’ and Juliet finds herself working for Perry’s MI5 counter-fascism team at a flat in Dolphin Square.
Told across two timelines, 1940 and 1950 – with a brief glimpse at 1981 in the prologue and epilogue – ‘Transcription’ has a huge cast of characters, most of whom I confused and, I suspect, Atkinson wishes me to confuse. Some characters are spies with cover names, some are only described and have no name while others seem innocent, too innocent to actually be innocent. If this is all confusing, it is meant to be. That is Atkinson’s point. This is a story about the importance of truth and how lies, which seem pragmatic and normal in wartime, are still lies. And that the most obvious traitors are not always the ones to be worried about.
The 1940 storyline covers the MI5 operation. At first, Juliet’s job is type up transcripts of bugged conversations between fascist supporters in the next door flat; later she takes on the persona of Iris to infiltrate a group of fascist agitators. Sometimes she fluffs her lines, sometimes she is impulsive and gets into trouble. At all times she feels isolated and unsure of the value of what she is doing. She is also a young woman and looks for signs of interest from the men surrounding her. In 1950, while working in the Schools Department of the BBC making educational radio programmes with titles such as ‘Can I Introduce You To?’ and ‘Have You Met?’, she sees familiar faces from her wartime days and the past revisits her.
Atkinson excels at the small detail which makes these workplaces convincing, creating believable relationships between Juliet and radio engineer Cyril at Dolphin Square, and with junior programme engineer Lester Pelling at the BBC. I enjoyed this book but wouldn’t describe it as a page turner. I’m not sure I liked Juliet but she held enough fascination for me as I tried to figure out what she did and didn’t believe in. I was never totally sure if I believed in her.
The Author’s Note at the end of the book is fascinating and perhaps would have served better as a Foreword. So, in summary, not my favourite Atkinson novel but not a bad one either.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Sep 1, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
This idea of consequences, and of every choice exacting a price later, runs like a watermark through Transcription, as it did through its two predecessors. At times, the novel is guilty of making its historical parallels a little too emphatic:... Transcription stands alongside its immediate predecessors as a fine example of Atkinson’s mature work; an unapologetic novel of ideas, which is also wise, funny and paced like a spy thriller. While it may lack the emotional sucker punch of A God in Ruins, Transcription exerts a gentler pull on the emotions, offering at the end a glimmer of hope, even as it asks us to consider again our recent history and the price of our individual and collective choices. It could hardly be more timely.
added by KayCliff | editGuardian, Stephanie Merritt (Sep 4, 2018)
 
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Epigraph
‘In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’
Winston Churchill
This Temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace or purity may be banished from this house, and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness.
Translation of Latin inscription in the foyer of British Broadcasting House
Z      Stands for ‘Zero’, the hour still abed
When a new England rises and the old one is dead.
From the Right Club’s ‘War Alphabet’
Dedication
For Marianne Velmans
First words
‘MISS ARMSTRONG? MISS Armstrong, can you hear me?’
Quotations
Recently she had bought a new book, by Elizabeth David - "A Book of Mediterranean Food". A hopeful purchase. The only olive oil she could find was sold in her local chemist in a small bottle. "For softening earwax?" he asked when she handed over her money.
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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 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.

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