Transcriptionby Published 25 Sep 2018
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
During WWII, Juliet Armstrong was conscripted into service as a young woman, transcribing conversations between an MI5 agent and a ring of suspected German sympathizers. Years later, in 1950 post-war London, Julie can't escape the repercussions of her work for the government, and is pulled back into the life of espionage she thought she'd left behind.
Kate Atkinson's latest novel brings mid-century London to life in a gripping tale of deception and consequences.
It’s funny how some books can immediately grab hold of you and cast you under their spell. This is that sort of book. The book immediately transports you back to London in the 1940s and 50s. The language is just spot on perfect.
The story revolves around a young woman who is drafted to transcribe conversations among a group of fascists that have been infiltrated by MI5. Juliet is only 18 and before she knows it, has been drafted for some spying in addition to her transcription duties.
Atkinson displays a dry sense of humor. “It seemed she had acquired all the drawbacks of being a mistress and none of the advantages - like sex. (She was becoming bolder with the word if not the act.) For Perry, it seemed to be the other way around - he had all the advantages of having a mistress and none of the drawbacks. Like sex.” Poor Juliet is truly naive and I had to keep reminding myself how young she was. She keeps waiting for a romance the reader knows is never going to come.
The rest of the characters are equally well drawn. The pettiness, the certainty, all are brought out for our inspection.
This is not a fast paced book by any stretch. The writing is meant to be enjoyed, lots of beautiful phrasing. But there is a tension to the book and the ending wasn’t anything I saw coming. “Juliet had the sense that she was taking part in a farce, although not one that was particularly funny - in fact, not funny at all.” But it is, in its own weird way.
In this day and age, I’m never sure if I’m seeing symbolism where it doesn’t belong. But it seems fitting that Atkinson picks as her topic the problem of Fascism in England during WWII. “Do not equate nationalism with patriotism,” Perry warned Juliet. “Nationalism is the first step on the road to Fascism.” Or this “Juliet could still remember when Hitler had seemed like a harmless clown. No one was amused now. (“The clowns are the dangerous ones”, Perry said.)”
Make sure to read The Author’s Note. What is the nature of historical fiction?
There are some interesting ideas here, like what constitutes the real self. Or what’s worth fighting for. “This England”. It’s a book meant to be discussed.
My thanks to netgalley and Little, Brown for an advance copy of this novel.
2 oh my disappointing stars.
I do like Atkinson's novels so when this one popped up, I was anxious to begin turning pages. Unfortunately the anticipation for this novel went south as I become bogged down in a uneven plot, and the flipping of time elements. This is a book I should have loved. It had everything, World War 2, a strong intelligent woman, espionage, London, all the things that make for a poignant novel. So, what went wrong?
For me, I just could not connect with any of the characters. They were choppy figures that seemed to drift about as I wondered exactly why they did what they did. There really didn't seem to be much of a plot and though I am sure Ms Atkinson did her due diligence on the topic, it just fell ever so flat. It was hard for me to maintain attention and though I did skim a bit, and found myself adverse to continuing at times wishing and hoping it would get better.
So, for me this novel just didn't come together. I am hoping Ms Atkinson does continue to write for she does it so well.
Thank you to my local library for a copy of this book.
I am having a really bad historical fiction year (looking at you Washington Black). So I was absolutely convinced that dropping all my reading commitments to immediately pick up Kate Atkinson's new WWII spy novel would help raise my spirits. Her previous books Life after Life and A God in Ruins are favourites of mine. I trust her to a deliver a distinct kind of uber- British novel, complete with her rather sardonic humour and droll observations.
All of these Atkinson-isms are here, at least in part, but the final result is, I am deeply sad to report, a bit of a mess.
I am sure Atkinson knows wit is one of her trade marks but she totally over does it here, it loses it's charm. This starts out a very promising espionage novel that ends as farce. I don't recall her other novels being so peppered with asides in parenthesis not to mention the Greek chorus like repetition of text from earlier in the story. This technique not only drove me entirely batty it also succeeded in ousting me out of the story at key moments.
An impressive amount of research has gone into this book, particularly the role of MI5 in monitoring Nazi sympathisers ( The Fifth Column) during WWII. I feel like the source material is rife with intrigue and danger but somehow that is not carried over into this story. Many times I considered that I might have been better served by reading a non-fiction account of this era. The sense of the war, the political machinations of MI5 and the various elements of seditious activity became quite lost in this rather curiously light-hearted plot. Was Atkinson trying to show that spy craft was relentlessly dull and often pointless ?. That all MI5 men are essentially interchangeable types and that it is impossible to tell who is spying on who and why ?. If so then this was a success.
It hurts me to review this so unfavourably and other fans of Atkinson should not be disheartened as it is entirely possible that I was still suffering a Warlight hangover. The two books share some overlap in a setting of post-war London and espionage as a critical driver however in all other respects they could not be more stylistically opposed.
A slight blemish then on my otherwise complete adoration of this author. I now need to go back and reread Life after Life to remind myself how good Atkinson can be.
Great historical fiction in the world of British espionage in WW2 and the repercussions that emerge in the 1950s. Touches on issues of class in spying circles, being gay, the monitoring of fascists, a young Juliet, recruited to engage in the process of transcription that develops into so much more. Then some time after the war, Juliet is now a BBC radio producer and sees a familiar face that refuses to acknowledge her leading to the entry of a host of familiar figures from the past. There are so many great reviews on this, so I will limit myself to saying this is complex storytelling that I found thoroughly absorbing, enjoyable and immersive historical fiction.
Juliet Armstrong is only eighteen years old when she is recruited by the M15 in 1940. She is tasked with transcribing the conversations of British fascists sympathizers during WWII. Before long, she is given more duties such as working as a spy herself and watching a dog which is being held for a sort of ransom. Ten years later she finds herself working for the BBC as a radio producer. She appears to have moved on with her life until those from her past come back, reminding her that one can never get away, and there are spies who spy on the spies, and that past crimes can and will haunt you. The plot shifts around mainly between the 1040's and 1950's with brief time spent in the 1980's
The plot shifts around mainly between the 1040's and 1950's with brief time spent in the 1980's. Juliet begins the book as a young woman mourning the loss of her Mother while attending school to learn a trade. She is recruited right out of the school and passes the initial test and is thrown into the world of espionage. "You've come a long way, baby" comes to mind. This is a slower moving book and one needs to really pay attention to detail. I did struggle at times with the slowness. Initially, I really enjoyed the book and then things felt tedious, then things picked up once again. Juliet is also an interesting character. I failed to connect with her and yet I enjoyed reading her thoughts. She had a dry sense of humor and had some witty and insightful thoughts. The other characters in this book had their own sense of humor as well. I do not read a lot of espionage/spy novels and it was nice to see the humor thrown in.
As Juliet's job is transcription, the reader gets to see the transcriptions that Juliet has made. I enjoyed this touch even though some of the conversations were mundane. I thought this was a nice way to show that a spy's life is not always exciting and how many spy organizations gather their data. Plus, this is another way of giving the reader a glimpse into Juliet's life, her interactions with others in the M15.
Apart from some pacing issues, I was hoping for a little more action in this book. But again, as I mentioned before, this book was dealing with transcribing data so there can't be too much action in that and even the "fight" scene was all very proper. Atkinson's writing is wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed her Author's Note at the end. Don't skip that!
I enjoyed this book and appreciated that Atkinson used a female protagonist *ahem* spy in this book. I just wished I connected more with Juliet. She started off as naive and got some maturity and oomph as the book progressed, but I never felt connected to her character. There are quite few characters in this book, but I found it easy to keep track of them.
Fans of Atkinson, WWII buffs, and fans of spy/espionage novels will surely enjoy this book.
Thank you to Little Brown and Company and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Read more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com