Transcription Summary & Study Guide

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Transcription Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Transcription by Kate Atkinson.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Atkinson, Kate. Transcription. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018.

The novel begins in 1981. Sixty-year old Juliet Armstrong was just hit by a car and passersby were attempting first aid. As she drifted out of consciousness, she remembered events from her life.

In 1950, Juliet was a producer for children's programming at the BBC. Walking through the park on her lunch break, she saw a man she knew from years before, Godfrey Toby, and approached him. However, he pretended not to know her. She went to a coffee shop and realized she was being watched by a man with a limp and an umbrella.

The novel flashes back to 1940. 18-year-old Juliet had just lost her mother when she was recruited by an MI5 (British intelligence) agent named Miles Merton to work on a special project. She was to listen to recordings made by another agent, Godfrey Toby, pretending to be a Nazi officer discussing plans with British Nazi sympathizers. MI5 had rented two adjoining apartments for this project, and Juliet, her boss Perry, and the sound technician Cyril worked out of one, while Toby worked out of the other, interviewing the sympathizers in a bugged room. Juliet transcribed the conversations. Juliet developed a crush on her boss Perry, and was increasingly frustrated by his lack of romantic interest in her. Juliet was frightened one day when one of the sympathizers, Dolly, caught her in the apartment building's hallway talking to Toby by the elevator. Toby convinced Dolly he did not know her.

Perry gave Juliet another mission, to pretend to be a young woman named Iris Carter-Jenkins in order to get close to another known Nazi sympathizer, Mrs. Scaife. Juliet successfully infiltrated Mrs. Scaife's group and learned she was in possession of a book containing a list of all the British Nazi sympathizers. One day, when she knew Mrs. Scaife was out, she visited her home and convinced her maid Beatrice to let her search for the book, telling her that her mistress was a traitor. Mrs. Scaife came home suddenly, and Juliet snuck out without being discovered, but left her handbag behind. Days later, Juliet learned that Beatrice was murdered. Her body was found in the coal bin at a local club, a location that Juliet had heard Godfrey Toby's Nazi sympathizers discussing. Perry asked Juliet to marry him and she agreed, despite knowing that something was amiss in this sudden proposal. Juliet was visited by another MI5 agent, Oliver Alleyne, who asked her to keep an eye on Godfrey Toby and to look after the dog of another MI5 asset, a Hungarian woman named Nelly Varga, who had been sent on a mission to France. Juliet was sent to entrap Mrs. Scaife and an American spy seeking to publicize the private correspondence of President Roosevelt in order to help the German cause. The mission was successful, and Mrs. Scaife and the American were arrested.

Back in the 1950 timeline, Juliet received a message at work that read, “You will pay for what you did” (186). She asked the messenger boy if the sender had a limp, and he said that he did. Juliet ran a safe house for MI5, and an agent she met in 1940 named Hartley contacted her to inform her that a Czech scientist named Pavel would be staying with her for the night. In the morning, Juliet and Hartley dropped Pavel off with two other agents at a hotel. Worried about the threat against her, Juliet visited Godfrey Toby's old house, where a strange woman was now living, who claimed not to know him.

Juliet ran into Perry at the BBC where he worked occasionally as a nature host on a radio program, and she told him about the threatening note. She visited the grave of Beatrice the maid and recalled that there was another body buried with her. While walking home, she was hit on the head with an umbrella and then attacked by a woman. It was Nelly Varga, the Hungarian, angry that she never got her dog back at the end of the war. She sent the threatening note and the man with the umbrella was her husband. Juliet returned home and someone was waiting for her in her apartment. She thought it was Dolly, the Nazi sympathizer.

The novel flashes back to 1940. Juliet and Cyril were in the MI5 apartment working when Dolly wandered in and discovered the operation. Godfrey Toby came in after her, and the three of them murdered Dolly to protect the mission. With the help of a few other MI5 agents, they had her buried with Beatrice so no one would ever find out. The police came to the apartment to arrest Perry for propositioning another man.

Returning to 1950, Juliet was confronted in her apartment by an MI5 agent named Mr. Fisher. He said that he knew Juliet had stolen documents from Pavel the Czech scientist to give to Miles Merton, who planed to give them to the Soviets. He accused Merton and Juliet of being communists, and told her Godfrey Toby had been sent to keep an eye on her. Juliet admitted that perhaps she once was a communist, but claimed she was now entirely lacking in idealism. Juliet escaped and planned to flee to France, but she was caught by two MI5 agents while boarding a train. Nelly Varga appeared suddenly as well, and in the midst of a scuffle, Juliet ran. Perry pulled up in a car and told her to get in. He drove her to a harbor and got her on a ship to Holland. As she left, she thought she saw Godfrey Toby on the dock.

Back in the 1981 timeline, Juliet succumbed to her injuries and passed away.

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