Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Transcription by Kate Atkinson (2018) is a feminist remix of John le Carré with a touch of P.G. Wodehouse. In 1940, eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong is recruited to spy on Nazi sympathizers in London. Her cohorts try to take advantage of her naivety, but clever Juliet has an agenda of her own. A decade later Juliet is working for the BBC on children's radio programming when her murky past catches up with her. The narrative flips back and forth between the two time periods, building tension.

I read Transcription whilst visiting family in England over the holidays, and it was the perfect travel book. On the train I listened to the audiobook so I could watch the matched view and then switched to the hardcover on the plane home. The page-turner plot made the journey fly. Period details grounded the story in history without slowing the pace.

Kate Atkinson is very good at portraying the subtle nuances of social class differences and how that shapes character and motives. The focus on female spies in the British homefront felt fresh and true to the gender-limits of that time. This novel wasn't as original as Life After Life, Atkinson's time-bending masterpiece, but it was so much fun to read.

I enjoyed Atkinson's descriptions of radio programming as much as the espionage. My British husband, who is writing an academic book on the BBC, found those scenes well portrayed. Who knew there was a revolving door between MI5 and the BBC?

Transcription would appeal to readers of all ages. Juliet's witty narration laced with sarcasm often made me laugh. Given the age of the protagonist, the story would cross over well to teen readers. It reminded me of my favorite historical young adult novel, Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, but even though Transcription was written for adults, it was not as dark.

I would strongly recommend Transcription (and Code Name Verity) to anyone who enjoys unreliable narrators, historical fiction, or British spy novels. I love the cover art on the American edition too. The photo is of my nephew and my daughter after thrift shopping in the medieval town of Wallingford. They reminded me of characters from the book.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy


pattinase (abbott) said...

One of my favorite writers and this book is sitting on my shelf. What am I waiting for?

Barrie said...

I love anything to do with British spies! And I'm going on a plane ride...with my Kindle! Thank you for reviewing. Fun photo, btw. :)

Linda McLaughlin said...

I love spy stories, so this sounds good. I tried to read Atkinson before, A God in Ruins, but couldn't get into it. Maybe I'll try her again with Transcription.

Sarah Laurence said...

Patti, enjoy!

Barrie, you'll love it. Thanks for hosting!

Linda, I quit reading A God in Ruins too halfway through (the characters were too nasty), but I loved Life After Life and Transcription. I think she's better with female protagonists.

Stacy said...

Sounds like a good read. I read Life After Life a few years ago and enjoyed it, but I'd like to read a more straight forward story from her.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wonderful review. I'm intrigued by the intrigue, so I will put that on my list. I really enjoyed Life After Life.

Jenn Jilks said...

I enjoy the Brit writers! Thanks for highlighting this one.
That's cool how you can change the mode! Ain't technology grand!

Lucy said...

Other than the comparison to John le Carre (only read one of his books but not a particular fan of it), the book sounds interesting. Thanks for reviewing.

Rose said...

This book is on my to-read list, so I really enjoyed reading your review, Sarah. I loved her Jackson Brodie novels, but I didn't care as much for "Life After Life." But Atkinson certainly is a talented writer; I just wish she would write another Brodie novel!

Powell River Books said...

My good friend loves audio books. I've always been a visual learner so I find keeping focused without a visual reference difficult. Wish I could enjoy books that way, it would be so relaxing. - Margy

A Cuban In London said...

Another excellent review. I hope your recent stay in my adopted land was a pleasant one. :-)

Greetings from London.