‘Transcription’ by Kate Atkinson – Listening in on the Fascists


‘Transcription’ by Kate Atkinson (2018) – 329 pages

England faced a severe Fascist threat in 1940 just like it does today. At that time the threat was from Germany instead of Russia. ‘Transcription’ is a novel about spying on fifth column British Fascists who were secretly trying to help Hitler and Germany during World War II.

Do not equate Nationalism with Patriotism. Nationalism is the first step on the Road to Fascism.”

So much depends on an intelligent personable voice to carry a novel. Juliet Armstrong is that vivacious voice in ‘Transcription’. She was only eighteen when she started with the British spy organization M15 as a typist and soon she is recruited for a special mission transcribing conversations taking place in an adjacent bugged hotel room between M15 agent Godfrey Toby and assorted British Fascists. Later she becomes even more heavily involved in the dangerous spy work.

It must be awfully handy to have a scapegoat for the world’s ills. Women and the Jews tend to be first in line, unfortunately.”

Most of the first half of ‘Transcription’ is taken up with Juliet Armstrong’s work with these operations for M15 and the various people she works with and also some of the British Fascists. I found this part of the novel entirely fascinating and high energy. We get a captivating picture and insight into the various individuals who make up this operation as well as those who are being spied on. Certainly the equipment used to bug the hotel room was primitive by today’s standards, but that’s part of the fun.

In her M15 work Juliet ultimately gets involved in some dangerous grisly situations.

Later we jump forward to 1950, and the war is over. Juliet is now working for the BBC as a radio producer. Somehow the characters and situation at the BBC don’t have quite the impact of those in M15. For one thing Juliet naturally has somewhat of a condescending attitude toward her BBC work which is of course nowhere near as exciting as her time at M15. Later her M15 connection comes back to haunt her even during peacetime.

‘Transcription’ is a compelling read, perhaps not quite at the level of Atkinson’s amazing ‘Life After Life’ or ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’, but still gripping and engaging.

Intelligent fun. That is why I read Cervantes. That’s why I read Chekhov. That’s why I read Shakespeare. That’s why I read Kate Atkinson.


Grade :   A-


8 responses to this post.

  1. Nooo, I’m not going to buy it until I’ve read the other two KA books I have on the shelf!!



    • Hi LIsa,
      You need to catch up on Kate Atkinson. 🙂



      • Yes, I do. And a few others too… starting with Margaret Atwood. Somebody is running a Margaret Atwood week (month?) and I’m planning to finally read Alias Grace…

        Liked by 1 person


        • For whatever reason, I’m not a big fan of Margaret Atwood. I’ve read one of her novels and watched The Handmaid’s Tale. At one point I chose between Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood, and I chose Alice Munro, but I’m not really surprised you probably went the other direction. 🙂



  2. I’ve never read Kate Atkinson but I’d like to.

    the first quote in your post reminds me of something Romain Gary wrote:
    ” Patriotism is the love for one’s people. Nationalism is the hatred of others.”

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Well, I’ve never read Kate Atkinson either – but your enthusiasm almost convinces me I should….

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Kaggsy,
      I too sometimes wish the 21st century had never happened, especially in pop music. Our reading strategies are different. I have read nearly all the classics, but am not much interested in early lesser figures. For modern literature I try to figure out who might possibly become a classic by reading reviews. I get burnt occasionally especially on the new stuff.

      Different approaches. Vive la difference.

      Liked by 1 person


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