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Transcription: A Novel by Kate Atkinson
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Transcription: A Novel (original 2018; edition 2018)

by Kate Atkinson (Author)

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1,7561027,329 (3.7)167
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:AlexaYM
Title:Transcription: A Novel
Authors:Kate Atkinson (Author)
Info:Little, Brown and Company (2018), Edition: First American Edition, 352 pages
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Transcription by Kate Atkinson (2018)

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» See also 167 mentions

English (99)  Piratical (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (101)
Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
This is the third of Kate Atkinson’s books that I’ve read. While not as brilliantly inventive as Life after Life, it’s enjoyable. For it, Atkinson returns to war-time London, yet sets it a little earlier, during the “phony” war of 1940 before the fall of France.
It is the story of an unlikely girl, an orphan, recruited to do clerical work by MI5. Her task is to transcribe recordings of Nazi sympathizers who blithely believe they are reporting to a German agent.
The plot is based on an actual operation that effectively neutralized the fifth column within Britain. The girl, Juliet Armstrong, gets into many other scrapes and adventures. Along the way, she learns that nothing is as it appears on the surface, and finally concluding that, in the end, nothing matters.
I enjoyed this insight into a little-known aspect of the war, told from the point-of-view of someone at the bottom of a multi-level and labyrinthine hierarchy. There is a gender-aspect to the genesis of the book. While poring over transcripts newly released to the National Archive, it occurred to Atkinson that someone, probably a young girl, had had to type them.
This review began by comparing this book to another of Atkinson’s. Unfairly, no doubt. Taken on its own merits, this was an enjoyable page-turner. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
"But then, what constituted real? Wasn't everything, even this life itself, just a game of deception?" This line from TRANSCRIPTION is a very good overview of much of Kate Atkinson's writing. She plays around with time and reality to explore the human condition and so far she has me completely hooked. In TRANSCRIPTION she also manages to work in a spy thriller with twists, turns, and betrayals that would make LeCarre proud. Her writing is always fluid and descriptive but it is alive and vibrant. I also think she gets at a lie that is so often employed in the world of literature and criticism, she writes books that could be labeled as "genre fiction," in this case a spy thriller or with the Jackson Brodie books mysteries, or with books like LIFE AFTER LIFE science fiction, but in the end they are all just great books. I think that we often use labels as a wall to either include or exclude as fits our personal desires. I think almost everyone considers Atkinson to be a literate writer and I would extend that definition to many others such as Stephen King. I will read anything Ms. Atkinson writes in the future. As for this book specifically, it felt very timely despite mostly taking place in the 1940s and 1950s. As she writes, "It must be awfully handy to have a scapegoat for the world's ills. (Women and the Jews tend to be first in line, unfortunately.)" Paging Mr. Soros. ( )
  MarkMad | Jul 14, 2021 |
Though one of my favorite authors, this is not my favorite of her books by far. Took a long tome (oops) time to get going, and there was a lot of rambling on. It picked up in the second half. ( )
  MuggleBorn930 | Jul 11, 2021 |
As always, Atkinson is whip smart. She makes the complicated look simple. The writing is sharp, the construction flawless.

Although the novel jumps through time, the jumps are simple and easy to follow: a brief stop in 1981, another slightly longer stop in 1950, and then to the main story in 1940. From there, it follows chronologically. It seems, as it begins--a little slowly--that it's a not very exciting story of a young woman who is dropped into an MI-5 operation. Juliet is naive, a little unobservant; her interior feelings don't seem to be in view.

But over the course of the novel, subtly, it changes. And it becomes a story about identity and the roles women play, and things start shifting under your feet.

I can't quite give it 5 stars just because it doesn't reach the heights of Life After Life, but it's excellent. ( )
  arosoff | Jul 11, 2021 |
Enjoyed Atkinson's writing as always, though I wasn't as taken with the story. It deals with WWII spies in Britain, more exactly, a group listening in on Nazi fellow-travelers and repercussions in the 50s. ( )
  Marse | Jun 24, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 99 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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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