Books you need to read this September

James Walton

Intrigue is the name of the game in this month’s choices, with espionage and affairs aplenty…

Transcription

by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday, £20)

Kate Atkinson’s previous two novels—Life after Life and A God in Ruins—were both dazzlingly good. But they were also rather tricksy affairs, whose main characters lived out different versions of their possible lives. In Transcription, Juliet Armstrong lives just the one—but luckily for us it’s certainly not dull. In 1940, Juliet joined a section of the secret service spying on those Brits who supported Germany in the war. What happened next is then revealed in a tantalising scene from the year of 1950, when she’s a BBC children’s producer—but may not have left the world of espionage as far behind as we thought (and she hoped).

Atkinson handles her mazy, le Carré style plot with complete authority. But there’s a lot more to the novel than its page-turning thrills. The increasingly sceptical Juliet makes for a very appealing heroine and the darker material is interspersed with some neat comedy. Above all, Atkinson recreates the atmosphere of both wartime and postwar London with utter conviction—and the deft use of telling details.

 

Love Is Blind

by William Boyd (Viking, £20)

William Boyd’s protagonists are generally a globe-trotting lot—and Love Is Blind’s Brodie Moncur is no exception. He may start the novel working quietly in a piano shop in 1890s Edinburgh but by the end, he’s travelled through most of Europe, before pitching up in the Andaman Islands of India. He’s also taken his place as Boyd’s latest Scottish innocent abroad, discovering the world is a lot more complicated, dangerous and fun than his “simple, strong, God-fearing” background in the Borders. Once again, Boyd conjures up time and place so vividly that reading the book is a fully immersive experience. The characters are great too: among them, an exotic Russian singer who understandably captures Brodie’s heart, and his fantastically hypocritical preacher dad. More surprisingly, there’s a distinctly spicy and sometimes quite melodramatic plot, complete with a homicidal baddie, at least two love triangles and even a pistols-at-dawn duel.

The lessons that Brodie’s odyssey teaches him are perhaps not all that startling (that love is blind, for one). Nonetheless, this is another deeply satisfying and enjoyable novel from one of Britain’s most dependable literary craftsmen.