Kate Atkinson and signs of summer

Kate Atkinson, Transcription. Black Swan paperback, Transworld Publishers/Penguin (2019)

This is a typically entertaining Kate Atkinson novel: not too demanding, well put together, and pretty forgettable.

Kate Atkinson Transcription coverThe structure is a little confusing at first, with contrapuntal sections set in completely different decades of the life of the protagonist, Juliet. In the first, set in 1981, she’s an old woman who’s injured in an accident – after years living in Italy and back in London on a visit, she’d looked the wrong way when crossing the road.

Next it’s the fifties, and she’s working in a dull job with uninspiring colleagues at the BBC. Then we go back a decade to the most substantial – and interesting – section: the years she spent as a clerk with the secret service. Her job is what gives the novel its title: she’s given the mundane job (considered all a young woman is good for in those unenlightened days) of transcribing on her typewriter the dialogue that’s been covertly recorded of a group of Nazi sympathisers. The flat next door has been set up by a British agent, who poses as another Nazi, as a supposed safe place in which to hold their meetings and plot against the British war effort.

Juliet is much brighter than her job allows her to be, and is soon recruited by her enigmatic bosses to do some real spying. What follows is a le Carré type espionage thriller, with a bit of unrequited love that’s more like a Barbara Pym plot element.

As I said at the start, it’s all good fun, and ideal for these fraught times when I find it difficult to focus on anything that requires close attention.

Bluebells are still flowering in this hedge next to a farmer’s field of rape

Now for other matters. I went for one of our regular local walks in the country with Mrs TD yesterday. It was yet another glorious sunny day, and nature is thriving. Early-developing trees like sycamore have already grown large leaves, but like their slightly tardier fellows they’re still a lovely shade of pale green, almost transparent when the sun shines through them.

A chestnut nearby has been if full bloom for a couple of weeks now, a wonderful shade of magenta. Blossom on most other flowering trees is just about over, but there’s still enough to keep the bees happy – and me.

Ploughed field 1

I posted pictures of this field last summer when it was full of ripe barley. Swallows and martins hunted for insects overhead then – but not yet this spring

Big news: as we passed a farm where late last summer I saw a group of swallows lining up on a telegraph wire, clearly preparing to migrate, I paused to scan the sky. I still hadn’t seen any first hirundine (what a great word) arrivers this spring – and sure enough, there they were! Two swallows, swooping across the valley, tracing aerial arcs at high speed. This is a sight that always lifts my spirits. I’ve been looking out for them for weeks, but this fine weather is blowing down from the north, and is therefore cold – maybe this has deterred them until now.

Ploughed field 2

The view across to the next field, also freshly ploughed. Not a swallow in sight – but what a view

8 thoughts on “Kate Atkinson and signs of summer

  1. I’ve been thinking of reading Transcription for quite some time now, so it was very helptful to read your review. I like Kate Atkinson’s work but I have a sort of hit or miss policy about her novels, i.e., I read some of them, but I don’t make a point of reading them all. Transcription, however, sounds like it might be ideal for me right now.
    As always, I enjoyed the photos and the nature px — you are very lucky to live in such a gorgeous part of the planet. I’m temporarily back in the mid-Atlantic U.S. this week, which is squarely in the midst of spring. It’s a very different experience from the semi-tropical climate of my new home, which doesn’t change much but which is, most of the time — well, tropical! (hibiscus! frangipani! palm trees! things with big red/orange/yellow leaves!). It’s much more similar to yours, minus all those dramatic hills & seashore: new leaves, returning birds and seasonal blossoms.
    Like you, I love watching the swallows return every spring. There was a whole little tribe of them close to my old house — every year, they’d show up within a few days of their previous return date, build nests and then spend all summer chattering to each other, raising their young and hunting bugs on the wing. Lots of fun to watch!

    • Those of us in temperate climates sometimes dream about a tropical life – iguanas and flamingos – and hibiscus that thrives (I gave mine away last year as punishment for refusing to flower). Yesterday and today we’ve had gales and lashing rain. Those swallows are probably having second thoughts.

  2. No flamingos, I’m afraid, Simon! They’re not indigenous to Florida so if you happen to see one he’s made a break from a zoo or private collection of some sort! We do have roseate spoonbills, which are slightly more subdued, as North American birds tend to be, but still very nice especially when hanging out with their friends.https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Roseate_Spoonbill/media-browser/311367261
    I personally love a good gale, if I don’t have to be out in it and it happens only once in a while. So very Daphne du Maurier, don’t you think, especially in Cornwall? As for those swallows, they’re probably just thankful they aren’t still migrating and can shelter under a cliff or something. Much nicer than being halfway some large body of water and hundreds of miles to go, surrounded by hungry gull!

    • I’m disappointed to hear about the flamingos! I did once see what I think was a red ibis just outside Miami. And those large, inscrutable iguanas on a palm trunk in South Beach: bit disturbing when you’re eating breakfast on a café terrace. Thanks for the link. I believe we get the odd spoonbill show up here in the UK, but not these lovely roseate ones, I don’t think. Thanks for the link.

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