By Kate Atkinson
It’s 1940 and 18-year old Juliet Armstrong is recruited by MI5 to support Britain’s war effort. After a bit of secretarial work, Juliet is quickly drafted to work on a secret operation outside of MI5 headquarters. There, she is to be a typist, transcribing the recordings of meetings between an MI5 agent posing as a German Gestapo agent and assorted British Fascist sympathizers. Eventually, she ends up being a spy herself.
Ten years later, Juliet works at the BBC as a radio producer. She helps out MI5 on occasion – providing her apartment as a safe house – but she’s mostly out of the spy business. When she starts seeing people from her past, she has to start putting the pieces together to figure out what is going on.
Review: I have to say that while I really liked the plot line in this book, the story behind it, I wasn’t in love with the book. I really wanted to love it, but I just didn’t.
Let me start by saying that Transcription is a historical fiction novel, but the characters and story stem from seeds of truth. This is one book where you’ll want to read the Author’s Note at the end because Atkinson explains the origins of many of the characters and circumstances from the book. The story she wove and the characters she created were hybrids of multiple men and women who worked for MI5 during WWII, revealed through MI5 releases to the National Archive as well as other research.
This fictional story (embedded with seeds of truth) was fascinating, and the ending? It’s one I didn’t expect (win!) but I’d also argue that it felt a bit out of nowhere. That would have been fine if the threads were all there and just missed by me or the reader… but I don’t think that was the case. It didn’t feel like there was enough ties to the rest of the book for me to really get the ending. (Does that make sense? I’m trying not to have spoilers by giving too much detail…)
In general, I found the book a little hard to get through at times. For me, the chapters set in 1940 were more engaging and interesting than those set in 1950, but really – it was just a slower book.
I am glad that I read Transcription, because I enjoyed the story and the nuggets of truth within the fictional story. However, I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t enjoy the experience of reading it more than I did.
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