Kate Atkinson – Transcription (5 stars)

Kate Atkinson - Transcription

Another absorbing read from a writer at the top of her game

Following on from the award-winning Life After Life (2013) and A God in Ruins (2015), Atkinson revisits the Second World War in Transcription. She has a new hero, however, in the complicated and contradictory Juliet Armstrong. Reluctantly recruited by MI5 aged 18, Juliet is as naïve as she is canny, as prone to wise-cracking as she is careful with her words, and as cautious as she is ripe for adventure.

As always, Atkinson leaves much for her readers to decode and as Juliet spends her youth transcribing the conversations of British Fascist sympathisers, the reader is just as keenly searching for double meanings and revelations. In Juliet's records, anecdotes about the weather are interposed with imagined gossip about the Gestapo, a juxtaposition that's only made more complex by the revelation that she occasionally allows herself to fill in words or phrases inaudible in the recordings.

Over the course of the war, Juliet transitions from glorified typist to undercover agent but it's in the 1970s, when she's working for the BBC, that she discovers what it really means to become embroiled in a world of complicity and co-conspiracy.

Atkinson's talent for creating a sense of levity and playfulness that's subtly subverted really comes into its own in Transcription. Trust no one, her narrative suggests, least of all yourself. The mundane nature of Juliet's tasks conceals the severity of the situations she allows herself to become embroiled in, much in the same way that Atkinson's seamless yet ingenious prose lulls the reader into an assumption of understanding, only to tug at the rug beneath their feet. This tension ensures Transcription is another absorbing read from one of our most skilled and inventive writers.

Out Thu 6 Sep (Doubleday).