I have been contemplating what it is about Kate Atkinson’s novels that I enjoy so much and have concluded that it is not just her style of writing, which is so effortlessly brilliant, but the way she writes humour. She writes these witty asides of what her characters are really thinking, and they are just so endearing and true to life.
I have been a huge fan of Kate Atkinson since I read ‘Life after Life’ and ‘A God in Ruins.’
This novel was much more of a slow burner for me. It took me a while to get going. It’s not what I would call a page turner, but it’s still fabulous, nonetheless.
The story centers around Juliet Armstrong who in 1950 is working for the BBC. The story then takes us back to 1940 where we discover she worked as a secret agent. The novel runs along these two parallel strands of the 1940s and the 1950s.
During the Second World War Juliet is employed by M.I.5 and taken to a flat in London, where she is told she will be transcribing what goes on in the next-door flat which is bugged. An agent called Godfrey Toby is sent undercover to listen to the secrets of a group of British Nazi sympathizers in the flat next door to Juliet, while she is taking down every word. The conversations are mundane, but Juliet’s life takes an unexpected turn when both her and Godfrey’s boss, a man named Perry gives her a job in the inner circle, where she goes undercover as Iris-Carter Jenkins and befriends a British Nazi Sympathizer called Mrs Scaife. This is where the book really came to life for me (about a quarter of the way in) and from then on, the intrigue develops, and the plot really does thicken (sorry!)
However, Juliet takes it all in her stride and seems totally underwhelmed by the drama unfolding around her. She is even bored at times – “There was a better life somewhere, Juliet supposed, if only she could be bothered to find it.”
Although I found this novel a slow starter, the prose is beautiful, full of humour and wry observations, and if you can stick with it, it’s a rewarding read in my view.
I have included a link below to some quotes from the novel on Good Reads. For if you need convincing of what a glorious writer Kate Atkinson is, read them and weep!