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Transcription by Kate Atkinson
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Transcription (original 2018; edition 2018)

by Kate Atkinson

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2,0721116,679 (3.69)185
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)
Member:WorldsOkayestDenise
Title:Transcription
Authors:Kate Atkinson
Info:New York, NY : Little, Brown and Co., 2018.
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:
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Transcription by Kate Atkinson (2018)

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English (109)  Piratical (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (111)
Showing 1-5 of 109 (next | show all)
Historical fiction about MI5-related agents and double agents during WWII but actually more about the ability to deceive. Protagonist Juliet Armstrong is an orphaned teen recruited by the British Secret Service to help monitor fascist sympathizers. She is a transcriptionist, typing up recorded conversations among an agent posing as a Gestapo spy, Godfrey Toby, and a group of Nazi supporters living in England. Juliet is recognized by her superiors as someone that could effectively lie and assume a separate identity (she perhaps was a pathological liar?) and assigns her a more active spying role. It is a dual timeline story, one set in early WWII in England and the other in 1950, when Juliet is working for the BBC, engaged in creating programs to educate children. Her past catches up with her and she feels threatened. Someone appears out to get her, and the list of possible candidates is lengthy.

Based on declassified documents of MI5, Kate Atkinson has extrapolated upon and fictionalized events while keeping with the spirit of the time. This is a thinking person’s novel. It is unclear which people are agents and which are double-agents. We get a sense of the paranoia of the period, ripe with propaganda and wondering whom to trust. Is Godfrey Toby a double agent or does he just excel at his job? Filled with layers and complexities, the reader participates with Juliet in attempting to figure out who is threatening her. The writing is intelligent and intricate, containing depth and subtle humor. It is more than a spy novel. It is a book that inspires thoughtful reflection about deception and a person’s ability to hide behind masks. It successfully illustrates that truth often lies in that which is left unsaid.

I felt most engaged in the WWII part of the story, though I believe the 1950’s timeline was necessary to show her past catching up with her, and that once a spy, distrust lingers. To enjoy it to its fullest, I think the reader must be comfortable with an abundance of ambiguity.
Content warnings include language (not extensive), animal cruelty (one scene offstage), and violence (including murder). Recommended to those that enjoy layered, complex novels about deception where people and things may not be what they appear on the surface. This was my first reading of a novel by Kate Atkinson and it has inspired me to explore more of her works. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
In 1981 Juliet Armstrong, a woman in late middle-age, is hit by a car as she leaves a Shostakovich concert at the Wigmore Hall. An accident. Probably.

Back in 1940 the same Juliet Armstrong is recruited as a naive 18-year-old by MI5 as a clerical worker. From there she is scouted by the mysterious Perry to work eavesdropping on and transcribing the conversations of low-grade Nazi sympathisers lured to a bugged flat in Dolphin Square by Godfrey Toby, an MI5 officer posing as a Gestapo officer. Perry, whom Juliet hopes will sweep her off her feet, is very attentive to Juliet but his passion has strict limits. What has this to do with with the police officers who call on Perry asking him about his nightlife? Who is the louche Oliver Alleyne who wants her to keep an eye on Godfrey's behaviour? Who is the man in the astrakhan-collared raincoat that Godfrey has mysterious assignations with? Ten years later, when Juliet is a producer with BBC Schools, why do figures from her past keep crossing her path?

This is a novel about people who are never what they seem. It's an easy and entertaining read without any of the poignancy and depth of Kate Atkinson's previous wartime-based novel, Life After Life. The narrative skates along quite happily on the surface, like a cartoon spy story full of stereotypical spooks and monstrous villains. The presence of a hapless BBC manager called Prendergast recalls Waugh's Decline and Fall. It's not really like Decline and Fall; it's nowhere near as farcically funny for one thing, but it does have its share of darkly funny moments. I'm not completely sure that it comes off though.
( )
  enitharmon | Oct 25, 2022 |
Interesting and well written (but with far too many asides in brackets), slow and haphazard, it didn't hook me and I just wanted to finish reading it. Confusing and confused, ultimately unsatisfactory, I must not be well-read enough to get the deeper threads of this story. ( )
  tarsel | Sep 4, 2022 |
Good old fashioned spy novel.
Set in London 1940 Juliet Armstrong gets a job as a typist for MI5
She has to type up transcripts of Nazi sympathizers, Communists etc.
They come once a week to speak to a man called Godfrey Toby who they believe is on their side.
Juliet is next door and listens in and then types up the conversations.
She also goes undercover a bit to try and get in with some Ladies who have been gossiping.
Her handler Perry is a bit strange and off to Juliet but she really likes him.

The book jumps to 1950 and Juliet is now working for the BBC she often wonders what happened to some of the characters she knew from her past. Some of them she still sees because they now work for the BBC. Some she still doesn't trust.
She still helps out MI5 now and again and she has to look after a Czech scientist for 1 night she photographs his documents and passes them to her colleagues. Unfortunately she shouldn't have done this.

Juliet is quite a lonely young woman no Parents or Siblings her life is consumed by her work. You cant help but feel sorry for her.

The book ends in 1981 Juliet returns to London nearly 70 and is run over.

Good book lots of strange but believable characters. ( )
  Daftboy1 | Jul 24, 2022 |
Juliet Armstrong is a naive, young woman, recruited by MI5 during WWII. She is drawn in a complicated web of operations which remain light-hearted thanks her constant day-dreaming and despite complications which highlight the harsh reality of war. The story then takes a turn, and while all the excitement seems far behind, the pace picks up again to an unexpected ending.
Atkinson does a good job of maintaining the reader's interest with a dash of humour. Juliet is true to her nature until the end: clever, idealistic, and ever-resourceful.
A fun, light read. ( )
  Cecilturtle | May 12, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 109 (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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Kate Atkinsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Woolgar, FenellaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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