Book Reviews

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

23848271[1]Josephine and Joseph left “the hinterland, hint of land, the term they used to dismiss their birthplaces, that endless suburban non-ness” and arrived at a city. A city similar to most big cities and were struggling to find jobs and keep from being evicted. But you could feel this sense of adventure between them that it didn’t matter if they sublet nasty apartments and ate simple meals, they were together on this journey. Both of them getting a job at places they preferred to not speak about at home (Josephine forbidden) kept a tone of mystery between them.

We don’t know much about Josephine, the main character of this story. She is married to Joseph and after a being unemployed for nineteen months, she is excited to finally get a job at the Database. A company where she sits in a windowless office all day, alone, cross-checking names and numbers into a database. “She didn’t need to understand her job, she just needed to keep it.” And so, as the reader, I went along and let this story unfold without trying to dissect it too much.

“Sometimes, in the depths of the afternoon, Josephine would have a thought-an intense, riveting thought, incongruous with her current task and location, something she ought to share with Joseph, a hint of a scene from a dream or a forgotten memory from when she was a kid, a complicated pun or a new conviction about how they ought to live their lives-then the moment would pass and the thought would be lost, trapped forever between the horizontal and vertical lines of the Database.”

I feel inept to properly express why I loved this book so much. It’s weird. It’s confusing. It’s mysterious. There are elements of fantasy and science fiction. There’s a relationship that at times is endearing and then at times strange. There are faceless characters and strange dystopian concepts but then brought back down to reality. The whole thing should be an utter mess but it wasn’t. I’ve had jobs in the past that were mindless, numbing positions, entering data in a room by myself. They were just jobs that paid the bills and held a spot on the resume. But after a while they started to test your sanity. I’d think ALL DAY LONG of what else I could be doing. I felt that Josephine started to go crazy after a bit. Not only with the job’s tasks but also due to the job’s essential purpose.

One of my favorite additions to the story was the use of language and word play. Not exactly anagrams but something closely akin.


No body.


One’s elf.”



What’s it like to eat three hours? She was feeling impish. How do they taste?”


And then my favorite. (Yes, I’m juvenile)



Happy nest.

Ha penis.”


Again, I don’t know why I loved this book so much but I did. I am an over-thinker and this time I just let the story unfold without trying to understand every single plot move. That, and the story, was refreshing.
Refresh Gin
Fresher Gin
Fringe Hers

I think I am going to start talking and writing like this.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips was released on August 11, 2015 and is 192 pages. Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt and Company for the advanced uncorrected digital copy. I was not required to post a review nor was I compensated. Some quotes may have been changed at final publication.

4 thoughts on “The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

  1. I liked this book because it was different. I appreciated Phillips’ outside the box writing. I knew this book would be a huge hit with other readers I know. And I did enjoy it, but it was outside my true wheelhouse. I’m not much for the fantastical or magical realism or whatever the hell that/those part/s of the book were. So while I appreciated it and knew it would live up to the praise for many folks, I also knew it wasn’t written for me.

  2. I related to the unemployment and desperation and, finally, the mind-numbing job aspect of this book on such a deep level. I also loved the wordplay! Great review 🙂

  3. Pingback: The Beautiful Bureaucrat - The Gilmore Guide to BooksThe Gilmore Guide to Books

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