by Atkinson, Kate

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever. Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

Kate Atkinson's first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, was named England's Whitbread Book of the Year in 1996. Since then, she has written nine more ground-breaking, bestselling books, most recently A God in Ruins. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

*Starred Review* As in her sublime Life after Life (2013), Atkinson again jumps between different periods in the mid-twentieth century to tell the story of a singular Englishwoman trapped in the vice of history. In 1940, during the "phony war," 18-year-old Juliet Armstrong is a well-read, if somewhat naive, young woman, "more concerned with the introduction of meat rationing" than with the coming of the real war, "the one where you might be killed." Even her work, transcribing conversations between an MI5 agent and various fifth columnists, seems oddly unthreatening, given the dim-witted ordinariness of these comically British would-be traitors, obsessed with their numerous "biscuit breaks." But then, suddenly, it doesn't seem ordinary anymore. What happens in 1940 to change Juliet's view of the world is revealed gradually, as Atkinson jumps from wartime London to 1950 and Juliet's postwar life as a radio producer for the BBC. Often, when writers attempt to tell two related but different stories, the reader picks a favorite and loses interest in the other. That's never the case here. Atkinson is a masterful narrative strategist, linking her two stories by the appearance in Juliet's postwar world of figures from her MI5 days and the suggestion that she is now at risk for what happened then.This is a novel full of surprises-Juliet is far more complex than she seems at first-but also one full of indelible characters, both at MI5 and the BBC, as Atkinson never fails to take us beyond an individual's circumstances to the achingly human, often-contradictory impulses within. And, as all of Atkinson's readers know, she is an exquisite writer of prose, using language with startling precision whether she is plumbing an inner life, describing events of appalling violence, or displaying her characters' wonderfully acerbic wit. Evoking such different but equally memorable works as Graham Greene's The Human Factor (1978) and Margaret Drabble's The Middle Ground (1980), this is a wonderful novel about making choices, failing to make them, and living, with some degree of grace, the lives our choices determine for us. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

The author of A God in Ruins (2015) and Life After Life (2013) revisits the Second World War. Juliet Armstrong is 18 years old and all alone in the world when she's recruited by MI5. Her job is transcribing meetings of British citizens sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Soon, she's pulled even deeper into the world of espionage, a world she will ultimately discover is hard to escape—even after she leaves the intelligence service to produce radio programs for the BBC. Atkinson is a careful author, and the title she's chosen for this novel is more than a description of Juliet's contribution to the war effort. The concept of writing over or across—meanings available from the Latin roots that make up the word "transcribe"—runs through the book. For example, the British Fascists who think they're passing secrets to the Third Reich are actually giving them to an English spy; their crimes are both deadly serious and parodic. At the BBC, Juliet creates programming about the past for children, versions of history that rely more on nostalgia than fact. She knows she's creating an idea of England, a scrim to hang over bombed-out buildings and dead bodies. Just as Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels borrow from mystery but exist in a category apart from that genre, her latest is a sort of demystified thriller. There is intrigue. There are surprises. But the unknowns aren't always what we think they are. The deepest pleasure here, though, is the author's language. As ever, Atkinson is sharp, precise, and funny. She might be the best Anglophone author working when it comes to adverbs. Consider this exchange: "Trude suddenly declared vehemently, ‘Let's hope the Germans bomb us the way they bombed Rotterdam.' ‘Goodness, why?' Mrs Scaife asked, rather taken aback by the savagery of this outburst. ‘Because then the cowards in government will capitulate and make peace with the Third Reich.' ‘Do have a scone,' Mrs Scaife said appe a singly." Another beautifully crafted book from an author of great intelligence and empathy. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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