Books Magazine

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

By Curlygeek04 @curlygeek04

beautifulThis will be a short review since I’ve already let too much time go by between reading the book and writing the review.  And also, it’s a short book.

Josephine and her husband Joseph are a young married couple who have recently moved to an unnamed city to get ahead in their lives (this is all kept very vague in the book with frequent references to “the hinterlands” where they are from).  Unfortunately they are struggling to find jobs and can’t pay the rent.  Josephine takes a horrible office job in desperation.  She sits in a tiny dark office and enters numbers from files into a computer all day.  She’s discouraged from talking to anyone or asking questions about the work.  Her boss is a genderless, faceless person with only one quality: bad breath.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat is an eerie novel, almost dreamlike in the way it’s written.

Sunbeams reflected brutally off windshields, cars transformed into machines for harassing sensitive eyes, a sudden-onset headache.  Her hazy vision interpreted a run-down apartment building as a cathedral.  She ran past an old lady in a wheelchair missing one purple shoe.  A large man carrying a miniature pumpkin.  A naked doll with male genitalia.  A line of children in angel wings marching across the street, calling out to one another in Spanish.  The whole inexplicable world reminded her of him.

I found I could really visualize it, like a movie, as I was reading (Tilda Swinton was in my head as The Person with Bad Breath).  There’s suspense as Josephine begins to learn what her company actually does, and trouble at home when her husband starts disappearing some nights.

What made this book for me are the creepy, depressing references to the office in which Josephine works, because I live the life of a bureaucrat every day.  From the walls you can’t paint or decorate, to stifling windowless offices, to not knowing who works down the hall from you, to the sometimes-nasty shared bathroom.

And sometimes, the hard part is just getting through the day without watching the clock.

Seriously, my workplace isn’t this bad, but it was both hilarious and disturbing to read about.  And maybe it made me feel a little better about my own job.

I really liked the mix of humor, wordplay, imagery and suspense in this book. That’s a lot to pack into a short novel!  I was a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, and this book makes you feel just that way — like you took a wrong step into another reality.

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