Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite authors (see my previous blogs on Addiction to Crime Fiction, Reading the latest from your favourite authors and A God in Ruins), so I was looking forward to reading her latest book Transcription and saved it for my holiday to Malaysia in April. It was worth the wait.
Transcription is set in London and begins in 1950, with Juliet Armstrong working for the BBC, producing educational children’s radio programmes. This Juliet clearly finds less exciting than her time in the second world war working for M15, when she was whisked from oblivion, via an interview with the wonderfully named Peregrine Gibbons, to become responsible for transcribing live conversations taking place amongst Nazi sympathisers in a Pimlico flat.
Back to 1942, when Juliet takes up a daily residence in the flat next door, using listening devices to capture the conversations, if only to her exasperation, people wouldn’t keep coughing or speaking over each other. The transcripts Juliet makes bring to life the petty but dangerous conversations of Berry, Trude and Dolly – all planning to be there to support Hitler’s troops when they march into England to take over. Little do they realise that the man they are talking to, Godfrey, who they think is on their side, is in fact working for M15 to ensure efforts to support the Germans by English traitors come to nothing. The conversations Juliet transcribes are in fact based on real transcripts that the author Kate Atkinson came across in the National Archives, which inspired her to write the book.
Meanwhile, in 1950s London something fishy is going on at the BBC and it seems to involve the Russians. Juliet is being followed and is caught up in a world where it is unclear who are enemies and who are friends, whose stories are real, and whose complex cover stories. She is both hunted and a hunter as she moves around London trying to protect herself.
The final twist to Transcription took my breath away. It means re-reading this book at some point is inevitable, as knowing what you find out at the end puts a whole different slant on things. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in spying, wartime London, or simply very well written fiction.