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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

As Kate Atkinson’s most recent novel, Transcription, opens we meet Juliet Armstrong in 1981, in London, where she has just been involved in a traffic accident. Lying on the pavement she thinks of her son, and Italy where she has lived for many years.


What follows is the story of Juliet’s past, especially the 1940’s when she was assigned a job, by the British government, typing the conversations of fascist sympathizers. A house has been set up where the government has installed a man who meets with people who are suspected to be spying for the Nazis.  He claims to be working on behalf of Germany, passing along their observations and activities to the Nazis when really all they tell him stays right there – with Juliet listening from another room, and transcribing their conversations.

When the war begins Juliet is a young and rather solitary girl. She is innocent in the ways of the world, taking her job at face value, without quite understanding that much of what she sees, and those with whom she works, is simply camouflage. As time goes on Juliet’s superiors see that she is indeed a smart young woman and they use her to infiltrate the social world of those they are interviewing. Though Juliet has come to know these people by listening to their conversations, they of course they have never actually seen Juliet at her work. She enters a tangled web of intrigue and deceit.

By 1950 Juliet is working for the BBC, and the Second World War is history. But, one day on her way to work Juliet sees a man she worked with during the war. He refuses to recognize her, but she is sure. She thinks of the past and what they did, together, during the war, knowing that none of them will ever be free of the past.

Kate Atkinson, author of Life After Life and God Of Ruins, as well as a mystery series, is known to be a bit of a quirky writer. Transcription is a bit more of a straightforward novel than her others, but still often darkly funny. As always, Kate Atkinson presents a novel that is entertaining and insightful, perfectly plotted and well written, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader wondering what really happened in the past, and if it will all be revealed in the end.


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