I wasn’t looking forward to Transcription with quite as much enthusiasm of some readers I know, as my own history with Atkinson is a bit mixed. But I know her to be an excellent story teller, with smooth fast-paced prose and an eye for vivid detail and an ear for good dialogue, and the reason I have quibbled with some of her recent books is because I have found them interesting enough to take seriously and ultimately quarrel with.
So I began Transcription with reasonably high expectations–and, overall, I was disappointed. It is slick and snappy and well-researched and reasonably clever, but it didn’t strike me as going deep about anything, from its main character to the potentially profound themes spy fiction engages. Perhaps if I hadn’t finally started reading John Le Carré this year this last point would not have struck me so hard! The fixation on being clever that (for me) undermined A God in Ruins has taken over in Transcription, while the rich, tender humanity that made A God in Ruins so engrossing right until the end is entirely missing.
Transcription is clever, by which I mean deftly plotted–but even here it didn’t quite win me over, because the Big Twist™ (which seems, with Atkinson, to be becoming paradoxically predictable as a move) was not cleverly disguised, just withheld. It’s no great feat to simply spring something on your readers at the end! (And perhaps if I hadn’t just finished going through The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with my class and showing all the places where in fact you could have discerned the truth from early on if you were really being suspicious enough, then this point would not have been so clear to me in its turn.) I found Transcription a diverting read, don’t get me wrong. But unlike both Life After Life and A God in Ruins, which were both so nearly so very, very good that I found their flaws greatly provoking, now that I’ve finished Transcription I can’t gin up enough interest in it to go into any more detail about it.