Transcription by Kate Atkinson

 Transcription cover

Transcription by Kate Atkinson was published in 2018, but it begins briefly in 1981 before the action moves to wartime London. Juliet is just 17 and orphaned with the death of her mother. She’s going to have to fend for herself and manages to get a job with the intelligence service MI5. It turns out not to be as exciting as that sounds as she ends up sitting at a typewriter in a room next door to one which is being used as a meeting place for Nazi sympathisers. The walls are bugged and it’s her job to type out what she hears – not as easy as you might think. No-one is to be trusted and Juliet finds herself wondering about her own colleagues. Is her boss who is supposedly posing as a Gestapo officer actually a Gestapo officer? She now has a different name and it isn’t long before she’s embroiled with the Fascists she has been listening in to and given the task of searching for The Red Book which apparently has names and addresses of Nazi sympathisers.

Fast forward to 1950 and Juliet is working for the BBC making the Schools radio programmes, but her life with MI5 comes back to haunt her, or is she just being paranoid?

I really enjoyed this one and I’ll probably give it 5 stars on Goodreads as I can’t give it 4.5. Kate Atkinson has been living in Edinburgh for donkey’s years so I count her as a Scottish author.

You can read Jack’s much more detailed thoughts on this book here.

Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

 Emotionally Weird cover

Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson was published in 2000. The setting is Dundee, where Atkinson went to university and it’s a series of tales told by various characters. This is a style that the author seems to favour and I can’t say that it’s one that I’m crazy about.

The main story is told by Effie, a student of literature. But her mother Nora also tells her family story and various other students are writing books which feature too, although thankfully never for very long. In fact Nora even reviews the main book, complaining of too many characters and such, so Atkinson is well aware that critics will complain of the flaws in the book. But I suppose she doesn’t see them as flaws.

It’s definitely curate’s egg-ish, meaning of course that the book is good in parts, however, the bits that are good are really very good, in my opinion anyway. It’s very funny in parts.

Here, Dundee’s English Literature department in the early 1970s is depicted as peopled by crazy characters – students and staff, headed by Professor Cousins who isn’t really in the real world at all and takes any chance to have word games. The professor is sure someone is trying to kill him and Effie is sure she is being followed.

Effie’s boyfriend Bob has hardly been to any lectures, he’s in danger of being chucked out of uni and Effie can’t think why she’s still with him.

Chick is a private detective ex-policeman who has fallen on hard times due to his divorce and Effie knows he reminds her of someone, but she can’t think who.

Dogs feature in the story, as they quite often do in Atkinson’s books and they provide some of the humour.

Kate Atkinson was born in the north of England but has lived in Scotland since her Dundee University days and now lives in Edinburgh. In this book she proves how well she has assimilated as she has a good Scots vocabulary and she uses it well.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

 A God in Ruins cover

I enjoyed reading Life After Life not long ago although at times it did irk me, the constant re-starting of life which went on in it and what seemed like a waste of good fiction ideas which might have been taken further in a more ‘normal’ book. Anyway, Jack was keen for me to get around to reading A God in Ruins fairly quickly as he wondered what I would think of it – so here goes. I’m not going to say too much about the actual story for fear of spoiling it for anyone, suffice to say that as often occurs with Atkinson the story jumps around a lot from 1944 to contemporary times.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson is a sort of continuation of Life After Life, the main character is Teddy Todd who is an RAF Halifax bomber pilot, he is the younger brother of Ursula who has such a busy existence in Life After Life.

Atkinson obviously had to do a lot of research into the experiences of pilots and their crews and she manages to write what seems to me to be incredibly realistic and absolutely terrifying bombing sorties as Teddy takes part in the carpet bombing of Germany in 1944. I’ve always thought that those men were made of stronger stuff than anyone today and this book just underlines it.

I loved this book it’s a real page turner, but it is like a palimpsest with rubbing out and rewriting of lives being involved when you get to the bottom of it. The whole story takes a very sad turn towards the end, but it makes you think how everything was changed in people’s lives, all those futures that people planned, but they just never happened as they had hoped they would.

If you want to know what Jack thought of the book have a look here.

I’m looking forward to her next book. I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. Although Atkinson was born in the north of England she has lived in Edinburgh for many years, and she uses Scots words, such as ‘hirpling’ meaning limping.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life cover

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was published in 2013. I haven’t read anything by Atkinson since I slogged to the end of When Will There Be Good News – and really there was no good news at all, I found it very depressing, so I’m a bit late in getting to this one.

One thing you can say for Life After Life is that it is definitely different. The main character Ursula Todd is first born in 1910, but that life doesn’t last long as she is stillborn. Not to worry though as in this book Ursula is reborn again and again, with different outcomes each time, and many different ends to her life.

In fact Ursula is a bit like a cat with nine lives, although I lost count of how many different deaths she suffered. I must admit that I found it all a bit annoying as I was happily getting into yet another of her existences, sometimes featuring bits of a previous life, and sometimes a premonition or feeling of deja vu changing an earlier story – when suddenly she was dead again and it started all over again. I think I prefer fiction to be a bit more straightforward.

I really liked quite a lot of the characters, which is always a plus. One of them says: ‘What if we get a chance to do it all again and again until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?’

Probably not wonderful, because apparently most people just keep repeating the same mistakes throughout their lives.

I just thought that it was a bit of a waste of so many story ideas, but it kept me entertained during the awful wet weather that we’re still suffering here in the east of Scotland.

I think that Atkinson managed to portray London during World War 2 at the height of the Blitz very accurately, going from what I’ve been told by people who witnessed it all first hand anyway, including one man who had been a conscientious objector and ended up driving ambulances through London. The job seemed to consist mainly of gathering up body parts.

As Kate Atkinson lives in Scotland I’m counting this one as my first read for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson

This is another one which I bought at the last library book sale. I just picked it up because it was by Kate Atkinson and it wasn’t until later that I realised that it is actually a collection of short stories.

Well I quite enjoy reading short stories, so that wasn’t a problem. They are all sort of loosely linked to each other, with the same characters turning up from time to time. I really enjoyed them.

The book was published in 2002.

The Times review of it said: ‘One of the most fluent and inventive writers around … Atkinson’s prose is always rich, satisfying and self assured, and always surprising. She has such a remarkable way with words that you turn to them again and again.’

The Scotsman said: ‘One of the country’s most innovative, exciting and intelligent writers.’

Although I’ve read and enjoyed a few of her books now and some have been set in Scotland, I don’t think that it had dawned on me that she is actually categorized as a Scottish writer.

Although Atkinson was born in York, she now lives in Edinburgh.

This book has plenty of Scottish words in it. It seems that Kate went to Uni at Dundee and like many others before her, decided to stay on in Scotland. She seems to have revelled in Scottish culture because to me, this book reads as being by a completely Scottish writer.

I don’t know why, but I still get a bit of a thrill when I recognise a place in a book as somewhere that I have been. (Very sad and pathetic, I know.) So I really liked it when the characters in one of the stories take a trip to Deep Sea World at North Queensferry, just at the Forth Bridge. That was a favourite destination for our boys when they were wee.

I had a real feeling of deja vu at one point as the eleventh story starts with the mother taking her son to university for the first time. Although it isn’t named, it is obviously Stirling University, which is well known for the abundance of wildlife around the campus and I don’t mean the student variety. Ducks, geese, squirrels, rabbits and oyster catchers nesting and popping up all over the place.

Laura did her degree there and we lost count of the amount of times that we moved her in and out of the halls of residence. It made me feel quite nostalgic.

Anyway, Not the End of the World is definitely worth reading, even if you don’t frequent east and central Scotland.

Library Book Sale

There was another mad withdrawn library book sale at the Adam Smith Theatre today. Surely they will have to re-think the book buying policy soon. There are so many cuts going on in other council departments, especially education. Anyway, I shouldn’t really complain as I bought another 5 fiction books plus a pasta cookery book.

I’ve only read 2 of the books that I bought in last month’s sale though, so the TBR pile is growing at an alarming rate.

This month, I couldn’t say no to:

Not the End of the World – Kate Atkinson
The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
Life Class – Pat Barker
April Lady – Georgette Heyer
The Popular Girl – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

No doubt I’ll get around to reading them at some point. At the moment I’m reading Vanity Fair, it’s a very old copy from the second-hand book shop. Unfortunately I didn’t realise how long it is when I started it. It dawned on me as I was turning the pages that they are nearly bible thin and there are 883 pages of them.

I could be some time.