I just finished Transcription last night. Like all of Kate Atkinson’s novels, it brought with it much discussion amongst the Hoarders. There were many exchanges with Elizabeth where I suggested I really wasn’t feeling all that enamoured with it. Her reassurances were that it takes a while to build enthusiasm with an Atkinson – nothing has been (and possibly will never be) like the instantaneous love we both felt for Life After Life. I went back to Elizabeth’s review for A God in Ruins (one I still have not read!), or rather it was her Goodreads review I read where it perfectly summed up the similar feelings I was having towards Transcription.
Transcription was, of course, a Highly Anticipated new novel from our beloved Kate Atkinson. But, as Elizabeth describes in her Goodreads review for A God in Ruins, this too was feeling more like a 3-star read rather than a swooning 4-or-5-star one. I took heart in seeing that A God in Ruins gained its momentum towards the end, per Elizabeth, so I remained patient with Transcription. I was just getting very worried this was going to be a let-down like so many of my other hotly anticipated books this year.
Now, don’t get me wrong, our main character, Juliet (also Iris Carter-Jenkins) is wonderful – she’s sharp, witty, clever, fabulously sarcastic with her wit, inner dialogue and comments. I loved her. Truly. And I loved all the other characters as well (the ones during 1940, I need to be explicit about that), they were so fantastic as well. Juliet has been assigned to transcribe the conversations from their spy next door with the group of people known to be working against England. Later she is recruited to serve in a more prominent role, taking her outside of the mind-numbing transcription work, this time as an actual spy. She is given the alias Iris Carter-Jenkins and is to infiltrate a group of women the British government knows to be collaborating with the enemy. The efforts of Juliet during this time are okay to read. Later, once the war is over and Juliet is growing increasingly concerned she is being followed, and the worrying coincidences she’s been warned to never trust, put her on edge. It is this constant figuring out of who’s watching whom, who’s side are they playing, who’s spying for whom was, of course, intelligent and interesting to follow, but….and there is that but…I did feel something was largely absent here? Indeed, even the part dealing with the “flamingo” fell flat for me. It’s not an edge of your seat adventure, rather it seems to quietly plod along (although plodding may not be an accurate word to use – it’s not briskly paced for sure, it’s more of a moseying poke along?)
And I cannot help but feel the way I did when watching the Gilmore Girls revival – do you remember when they wasted episodes on that ridiculous town play?? (She’s Kinky Boots! She’s Kinky Boots!) There were many moments for me, when the story switches to post-war 1950 when Juliet is working for the Schools division at BBC that felt like they were nothing more than inane filler. These were the parts where I felt like I was trapped in the Gilmore Girls’ town play scenes – pointless and left me questioning why so much time was being spent (wasted?) on those scenes?
Towards the end, there was a pick-up for me where it starts to come back together and Juliet’s sense of paranoia comes to a head and more is revealed about her days as a spy (and her continuing days as a spy?) So, this one may be another where the cleverness (or brilliance as I’ve seen so many reviewers say) sneaks up on you after letting it simmer and sit a bit longer? Indeed, I am still thinking of Juliet because she was such a wonderful character…so for now I’ll let it sit with my 3.75-star rating.
Hoarder Elizabeth is in line at her library for Transcription, so I’m definitely interested in hear her take on it! If the wait becomes too long and doesn’t come through for her before her trip here at Christmas, you know I’ll just be zipping off my copy of it to her. I really need to know how she feels about this one!
Have you read Transcription? Do you think I missed something? Is your reaction different than mine?