Writer: Kate Atkinson
Publishing House: Black Swan
Date of Publication: March 21st 2019 (first published September 6th 2018)
Rating: 5 stars
”In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
1950. Juliet is a BBC producer, responsible for the children’s zone. Intelligent, energetic and a talented writer, she tries to make History interesting for the young ones. She should know, for her relationship to the Lady with the Book that chronicles the course of the human race has been extremely turbulent. If we travel back in time, in 1940 specifically, we’ll see Juliet reluctantly working for the country, a spy for MI5. And now, traces of her former life have returned to show our heroine that the past is a war without an end…
Kate Atkinson leads us to one of the most eventful eras in History. The nightmare of WWII is about to break out. We join a squad created to capture members of the British aristocracy that dreams of a fascist future, siding with Hitler. Young women infiltrate their circle to prevent evil and transcriptions are used to set up a defense against a very sneaky enemy. Identities must change, facades must be created, victims are inevitable and, at times, expendable. But how can you go on with your life once this comes to an end? Juliet has made her choices in a life that allows no emotions. No friends, no loved ones. No one to trust, no name, no past. Atkinson writes in a way that is direct and ”literary” and creates a novel that becomes so much more than a spy story. This is a novel about a young woman who tries to obey the country’s call and uses her wit without abandoning her principles or her kindness.
”Still, the fog had lifted overnight and now Juliet could see the beginning of buds on the trees, and, even above the noise of London traffic, she could hear that the birds were singing their tiny hearts out, getting ready for spring. They are all feathers, she thought.”
The setting is superbly crafted. The dark atmosphere of the impending war that suffocates London, the rebirth of the 50s, the impact of the Cold War in the capital are used to great effect and the era comes alive through the pages. I loved the bookish references and the trivia of the British Theatre during the golden days of the radio plays. London becomes a character in every novel set in the metropolis and Transcription is no exception. It definitely matches the personality of our heroine. Juliet is gloomy, thoughtful and mysterious but it is the momentary instances of sunshine make her such a complex and fascinating character, surrounded by an exciting cast of espionage, journalism, and British reality.
Dark, sarcastic, gloomy, compulsively readable, this novel is my introduction to Kate Atkinson’s work and it is certain to find itself among my favourite reads of the year.
”History should always have a plot, Juliet thought as she slushed and burned Morna Treadwell’s deathly words. How else can you make sense of it?”