I needn't say much about Transcription because Kate Atkinson is a first class novelist and readers are safe in her hands. You won't find pedestrian, clunky, formulaic writing here, for all is precise and fitting; the narrative has pace and flows smoothly from 1981 to 1950, 1940 and back; the editing is tight, the tone is light - "Think of it as an adventure [...] A bit of a lark, something from Buchan or Erskine Childers [...] A Girls' Own adventure." - and the raw material is so professionally shaped and polished as to bring out the grain in all its beauty and complexity: therein lies the skill, hence the safe hands.
Transcription is the story of Juliet Armstrong, recruited by the Security Service during the war, her job to transcribe recordings of incriminating conversations of Nazi sympathisers: "filaments in an evangelistic web of treachery." Asked to leave her typewriter and infiltrate that web, Juliet - whether spider or fly - puts herself at risk, but retribution is long in coming.
I loved the book's humour, for besides the black comedy, Kate Atkinson has the Alan Bennett/Victoria Wood gift of colouring a character with a telling domestic detail or a wry observation. In addition, Juliet's very self-possession, her self-awareness, gives a certain detachment to her perception of and involvement in events, and it's that little 'distance' that makes room for comedic comment and lends a spaciousness to her story. There are some set-piece scenes or longer sections which I imagine the author had particular fun with, not least the post-war BBC Schools department which is a rich seam to mine (not surprisingly she lists Penelope Fitzgerald's Human Voices as a source). There's a wool shop cameo which reminded me of Wallace and Gromit's Wendolene's Wools, and her use of a flamingo (see the cover, above) is surely a nod to the surrealism of Alice's game of croquet.
The first of the book's three epigraphs is Winston Churchill's 'In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." Bear that in mind as you read this superb novel.