Madeleine Kleppinger challenges readers to experience life through stories that inspire more adventurous living, personal growth and meaningful service of others.

Is That Our Spy? A Book Review of Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Is That Our Spy? A Book Review of Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Juliet is Britain’s most lackadaisical WWII era spy. When the neighbors talk about the German’s knocking on England’s back door, Juliet gets grumpy about her ration cards. Naturally she has some problems, with being an agent of espionage, aside from her lukewarm attitude about the enemy. Juliet never planned to be a spy in the first place.

The blasé life of a reluctant MI5 spy is central to the newly released fiction novel, Transcription. The story’s creator, Kate Atkinson, also throws in a doomed workplace romance, some double crossing, laughable false identities, and a few detonated bombs for our reading pleasure. Despite everything trying to stop our protagonist, Juliet is always in the right place at the right time to catch traitors to the crown. Her circumstances force her to remain a spy.

Atkinson creates another delightful tale of historical fiction in Transcription. She excels at crafting a story that wipes clean a window into the past. Her readers get a chance to peer into the daily lives of those personalities who lived through historic world events. As mentioned in her Author’s Note, it was not until she discovered real people in MI5’s archives did she get to work creating the story we are reading now.

Talented author, Atkinson, introduces the wall flower characters and guides us to recognize all they offer to the bigger story. Within the pages of her book she reminds us, all humans have something to contribute to the greater events that make history. And in Juliet’s case even unintentional contributions leave a lasting impact.

Transcription earns high marks from me due to its readability, subtle humor, and simple, noninvasive examination of humanness. Atkinson sets her novels apart with a traditionally British style of employing fun language for readers to enjoy. I kept my dictionary close at hand during the read and was inspired by the words Atkinson wrote for me.

Compared to some of Atkinson’s other novels, like A God in Ruins, I am more likely to recommend this title to other readers. Transcription bends the rules, of the historical fiction genre, less. While I do enjoy Atkinson’s what if this? plots, I appreciated the believability of Juliet’s personality and career post war. Juliet was a reliable character and I enjoyed anticipating her choices and applauding her growth.

Transcription is a buy, and pass along book. The novel offers much for readers and should be passed onto someone who needs a good laugh, and a break from their serious and important job. Oh, and about the twist at the end, only history will tell how we will remember that.


Suggested reading list for similar books :

Agents of Treachery
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

  1. Did you enjoy Juliet’s little asides during the text? My favorite was from page 147, “I practice to deceive, she thought. Rhymes with Eve.” What did you think about Atkinson incorporating the main character’s conscious thoughts?

  2. Throughout the novel, Juliet was pushed around the MI5 network, by many of the insider agents. She rarely pushed back. Do you think by acting under the radar, Juliet was able to catch spies better?

  3. Out in the field, Perry created an extensive network of double agents. When he became ‘fond’ of Miss Armstrong, their relationship took place outside of work. Should Juliet have suspected him of also living a double life?

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