Reluctantly Returning to Reading

When I read a book a day, I never imagined not wanting to read.  Most of my life revolved around stories professionally and personally but when my own story became the drama, it’s plot was too complicated to let any other in.  Needless to say, I won’t reveal the personal – those who know me already have it – but my unexpected separation from bibliotherapy taught me to savor moments of inspiration and not take them for granted.

Kate Atkinson’s Transcription survived the purge of my bookshelves with two boxes of notable reads sent to the library annual booksale.  I uncovered its red cover under the dust jacket and it followed me until I gave in and opened to the first pages.  Many of you have already read this complicated spy novel with a twist I almost missed at the end, and Atkinson has already produced another book published last month.  But if you haven’t read Transcription, its story holds enough historical information to tease you into wondering what is indeed fact, as well as Atkinson’s trademark knack for plot twists to keep you  reading between the lines of the characters’ lives in this tale of espionage and treachery.

Juliet Armstrong flashes back to her life as a secretary secretly transcribing conversations for the British spy organization MI5.  Jonathan Dee neatly summarized the novel in his 2018 review for The New Yorker with enough detail to satisfy your curiosity if you are still deciding if you want to read the book – Kate Atkinson’s Spy Novel Makes the Genre New.

The Author’s Note at the end of the book led me to more books.  Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices is listed as  one of Atkinson’s references.  Firzgerald’s 1980’s novel tells “the fictionalised experiences of a group of BBC employees at Broadcasting House, London, in 1940 when the city was under nightly attack from the Luftwaffe’s high explosive, incendiary, and parachute bombs.”  I became a fan of Fitzgerald after reading The Bookshop.

Atkinson’s newest publication revives her detective series with Jackson Brodie as the star Cambridge detective.  Of course, I need to backtrack to the first book – Case Histories – and maybe proceed to the other four before my library waitlist number for her latest, Big Sky, comes up.

So I have books to anticipate, and more.  A friend sent me hardback copies of the newest Elin Hildebrand and Jennifer Weiner books; my stack is growing again.

What have you read lately?

Related Reviews:

The Flight Attendant

41DOwpZKXvL._AC_US218_Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant is a book everyone who travels needs to read – maybe just not while you are on a plane.  If you’ve read any of Bohjalian’s books, you know his stories are compelling page turners, full of intrigue and twisting plot lines – this one is no exception.

Cassie is the well-preseved middle-aged flight attendant for first class international flights with a trailer park background morphed into a sleek attractive boozy lifestyle.  She meets Alex in seat 2C and the ride begins.  I won’t tell you much about the story – you need to read it yourself and enjoy the many twists and anticipate who will do what and where, but to tempt you – this is a thrilling chase with murder and espionage and those fearful Russians. You will constantly question who is the unreliable narrator and probably be surprised at the ending.  Maureen Corrigan has an excellent review for the Washington Post, if you want more details – Book Review.

As an added treat, Bohjalian referenced a number of authors I wanted to find. I actually stopped mid-chapter to find the Italian philosopher Carlo Levi’s essay on “Humanism,” and then found myself googling other philosophers.

Others mentioned in his acknowledgments – his research for the story – are now on my list to read:

  • Sarah Heploa’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget (page 214)
  • Heather Poole’s Cruising Altitude
  • Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot  
  • Richard Whittle’s Predator (a history of drones)

Related Reviews: 

The Time In Between

Although Maris Duenas’s the Time In Between begins with slow-flowing mellifluous descriptions of life in Madrid in the 193os, the story morphs into the adventures of a young girl during the Spanish Civil War.   The changes in the heroine’s life evolve quickly and often over the 600 page saga.

Ready to marry a staid civil servant, Sira is seduced by a typewriter salesman/scam artist, and runs away from the impending war and her mother to live with him in Morocco. Before she leaves, her wealthy father gives her jewels and money as compensation for having deserted her unwed mother. Her new-found fortune dissipates under the control of her lover, who disappears with her inheritance, just as she finds she is pregnant and the war closes the Strait.  Abandoned and with no possibility of returning home, Sira is rescued by a police officer, and settles into a makeshift arrangement in a boarding house.

After a mad chase through the streets with guns strapped to her legs and hidden under a haik, Sira has the money to start her own business as a seamstress.  The more successful she is, the better her contacts. Her dressmaking inadvertently connects her to Generalissimo Franco, and eventually Britain’s M-16 espionage team.  The British recruit her and send her back to Madrid to sew for the wives of high-ranking Nazis.  As her life as a beautiful undercover spy develops, the politics get scarier, and her escapades more thrilling.

Translated from Spanish, The Time in Between, has an easy flow with extravagant descriptions of food and fashion punctuating the action.  Although the historical context is informative, Duenas uses the intrigue to promote romance as the main focus in her story –  with the suave villains and the handsome Marcos, who keeps reentering her life – climaxing in a daring train episode.

Sira’s experiences will remind you of the Perils of Pauline – the beautiful heroine survives turmoil again and again, only to emerge victorious.  At times, you may wonder why you are plowing through all those pages, but, the action is constant, and the descriptive interludes will lull you into imagining that you are somewhere else.