Kate Atkinson is one of my absolute favourite authors. I would say that her book, Life After Life, is a work of absolute genuis and possibly my favourite book of all time. Last year, I went to hear her speak about her new book, Transcription, at Cheltenham Literature Festival. And I couldn’t wait to read it. Except I had to wait until it came out in paperback (hardbacks being too expensive for people who read as much as I did), so I’ve only just read it.
Transcription is the story of 18-year-old Juliet Armstrong, who is recruited by M15 during World War II. She is involved in a mission which is simultaneously daring and mundane. It is Juliet’s job to type up notes (hence the title – Transcription) of conversations with British Nazi sympathisers. Juliet’s office is the flat next door and all of the conversations are recorded by hidden recording equipment.
Who knew they had such technology in 1940? But they did. The inspiration for the book comes from the archives of very similar transcriptions, which were recently made public for the first time.
Juliet goes on to become a double agent herself and gets to the point where she no longer really knows who she is – or who she can trust.
Transcription is interesting, enjoyable and humorous (although not laugh out loud funny). It is a very pleasant read, but there were brief moments when I found myself wondering what the point of this enjoyable read was. Then it would hit me with a big twist.
This isn’t a psychological thriller (you know I love a psychological thriller), so the twists aren’t quite the jaw dropping sort you would expect in that genre. But they are still significant and still change the way you see Juliet and everyone around her.
A significant proportion of the action takes place in 1950. The war is over and Juliet is working as a radio producer for the BBC. Life should be running smoothly, but she realises that she will never really leave MI5 and her work as a double agent behind…
I absolutely loved Transcription. It is one of those books that will stay with me for a long time. It’s not a quick, easy read, but I don’t think it’s too challenging either. It is very well written and gives a new angle to World War II. If you enjoy reading about World War II, or you just want to read about something you’ve (probably) never read about before, I would definitely recommend Transcription.