Book Review – Transcription

Very mixed views on ‘Transcription’ – some really enjoyed it, others found it slow and dull – ‘Le Carre Lite’ seemed to be the best description. Set largely between two time periods we are introduced to Juliet. In 1940 she found herself working for the secret service transcribing recordings of meetings between a spy and various Nazi sympathisers and inevitably she gets drawn in to more active roles within the service – inhabiting different persona and accumulating lies. In 1950 Juliet is working for the BBC schools service producing programmes, and becoming increasingly uneasy as shadows from the past seem to be remerging.


Kate Atkinson’s writing is easy and erudite, with lots of humour (Juliet displays a typically British stoical sense of humour) and was littered with references – Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan, the start of the Archers (all British institutions) and I suspect many more that past me by. The ideas of patriotism, nationalism and loyalty are explored.


Some of us remember school broadcasting of the type described from our younger days – sitting cross legged in the hall and listening to educational and instructive ( albeit a little condescending ) episodes of one type or another. One club member wrote “I enjoyed the whole portrayal of the tight-laced, over regulated, class ridden, petty and sexist structure of the BBC in those days”.


The descriptions of the flat used to trap the fifth columnists seemed very reminiscent of Le Carre – to the extent that I started to think some of the characters were doubles from the Smiley books – and the sheer tedium of much undercover work came over clearly. Juliet seemed so naïve and the whole business of spying feels rather like a game that she drifts along with.


Some predicted the ending but I found the final twist confusing – I couldn’t see what had led up to it given that the book feels as though it was minutely described but clearly there are unexplained holes in the narrative- some clues along the way would have been good.