I was quite prepared to love this book, and to think of Atkinson as my treasure of the year — having loved Life After Life and having gotten to the climax of the book thinking that I might have even loved this one more.
The book had interesting and fun things to say about espionage. You get a sense of world-weariness about the proceedings that feels like the same conclusion of Le Carré but from a decidedly different angle. Atkinson really likes to explore identity and fidelity here, and I think the book is at its best when it feints towards the theatrics of it all: the image of Juliet and Toby silently working in the Dolphin Square, abandoned and forgotten by the bureaucracy that spawned them, was lovely and crucial.
Whereas I thought Life After Life had a rare (to me) ending that absolutely nailed the book and recontextualized the affair, this sadly had the opposite. The twist felt like a betrayal of sorts — I wanted the book to leave me with a sense of fog and mist and an understanding that "who was allied with who" is a farce of a question, and of course she veered in the opposite direction. We learn that we can't trust the words — which of course is meant to be clever, in that Juliet herself wrote words that couldn't be trusted — but just felt, I don't know, like a surface-level joke as opposed to an incline something towards meaningful.
(The book was, it should be said, quite funny. Atkinson's voice, through Juliet, is a treat.)