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Mystery Book Club - Past Titles: April 2023

Titles from the Mystery Book Club at the Islington Branch *No longer an active club*

"Transcription" by Kate Atkinson

  1. What did you think about this story structure and different time periods when it comes to story flow?
  2. Which storylines were you most engaged with and why?
  3. Let’s talk about Juliet’s dynamic with Perry. She obviously was in lust with him while he had other interests in mind, however, he still cared for her just not in the way she wanted. How did this showcase her naivety?
  4. Juliet is very capable with her transcribing skills and is asked to go undercover. Why do you think Juliet was so skilled at being undercover?
  5. Let’s focus on Godfrey, a complicated figure in many ways. He’s a spy but he seems fond of the British Fascist sympathizers, despite their beliefs. Why? What does that represent about human nature?
  6. As she starts to receive threatening messages, who did you think at first it was from?
  7. Is the creation of new identities and personae something women are particularly good at? What factors would cause this to be so: is it a type of innate social reflex which allows women to adapt to a particular context? Is it the fact that, because of the war, women had to do jobs previously dominated by men?
  8. What do you make of the dichotomy in Juliet’s personality? At times, she looks out kindly for others: for the young men who work beneath her, for dogs, for those in MI5 who use her without thought. At other times, she can be subtly cruel, such as when she left Trude at the hospital to take her last tortured breaths. Is this the normal range of behaviors within a character, or is there something darker and more malevolent within Juliet?
  9. How does this novel show that history is doomed to repeat itself?
  10. What do you think of Juliet’s repetitive use of birds as descriptors for people? Is this something that every day reader’s would understand? Do they need to understand it to understand the book?
  11. What do Juliet’s internal monologues mean? Do they give her character? Are they meant to portray anything about her?
  12. Espionage abounds in Transcription, but would you classify it as a spy novel? How does it differ from other spy novels you have read?
  13. Would you characterize this story as a mystery? What was the mystery if so? Why not if not?
  14. What surprised you the most about the ending and the reveal of Juliet as a double agent? Had you suspected? If so, what gave it away for you?
  15. If there is anything that confuses you about the story, let’s now take the time to discuss it.
  • Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year Award with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum

  • Her 2013 novel Life After Life, now a BBC TV series starring Thomasin McKenzie, won the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize and the Costa Novel of the Year Award, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and was also voted Book of the Year by the independent booksellers' associations on both sides of the Atlantic

  • A God in Ruins, also a winner of the Costa Novel of the Year Award, is a companion to Life After Life, although the two can be read independently

  • Her five bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie - Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, Started Early, Took My Dog, and Big Sky - became the BBC TV series Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs

  • Kate Atkinson was awarded an MBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

  • While on the National Archives website, she got drawn into the latest releases section and learned about Jack King, who was an MI5 spy during the Second World War. Posing as a Gestapo agent, he infiltrated fascist groups and prevented secret information from getting into the hands of the Nazis. But his real identity had been the cause of speculation for some time; now, it was being revealed that he was really a bank clerk at the Westminster Bank called Eric Roberts. As Atkinson dug further, she found transcriptions of his conversations with various Nazi sympathizers, and got to thinking about the girl - and it would have been a girl, says Atkinson - whose job it was to transcribe all of these, mostly rather mundane, discussions.
  • The result is a fascinating novel that looks at a time when paranoia was high in Britain, but which came before the bombings and defeats later in the war, making Transcription far from a typical war novel. Atkinson says the period is “interesting because you have not seen any planes overhead, you still have a foothold in Europe, and people hadn’t suffered the moral defeat of Dunkirk”. Instead, it’s the enemy at home that’s most concerning, and even those whose job it is to protect Britain from the Nazis have links to fascists.


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