Transcription / Kate Atkinson
Toronto: DoubledayCanada, c2018.
I can't believe I didn't review this as soon as I'd finished reading it in October -- actually I thought I had, but went back to check on it and realized I never wrote about it. Why? It was a wonderful read, I really enjoyed it, and thought a lot about it. So here are my thoughts shared with you now, anyhow!
Juliet Armstrong is eighteen in 1940s England. She's recruited into MI5 almost unexpectedly - she didn't intend to work in intelligence. As a young woman, she is assigned to work as an 'office girl' for an officer surveilling a right wing Fascist group. There is a strange relationship between them from the beginning, and Juliet has to figure out who to trust and what to believe among all the intelligence officers and moles and double agents around her.
The story is also told looking backwards from ten years on, when Juliet is now a BBC producer of small radio shows. She tries to put the threads together around events in her past, and the story unravels in various ways as she investigates and tracks down loose ends.
And the ending...well, it is not at all what I expected, and I read quite a few of these wartime/spy novels. It was a delight to actually be surprised by the conclusion.
I really enjoyed the indefinite nature of the story and the tangled ups and downs of Juliet's experiences and perceptions. I just discovered an article about the similarities between Juliet and a real life spy, and that has both made me reconsider this book, and realize that I still really like it. If you haven't yet read it and are in the mood for a novel full of feints and false leads, which is utterly entertaining, this is it.
Take a look at this intriguing article in the Dublin Review of Books about a true story that seems to have inspired this novel, the life of Joan Miller.
William Boyd's Restless also takes on the story of a female spy, but looking back from way beyond the war years. Really great, and the BBC movie made from it was also good viewing.
Speaking of viewing, you might want to check out the very excellent BBC series Mrs. Wilson if you can. Ruth Wilson plays her own grandmother in a true story about her grandfather who worked in Intelligence...or did he?