The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company. August 2015
Pages: 192
Genre: Literary fiction, Science fiction
Source: Publisher
First Line: The person who interviewed her had no face.



In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as "The Database." After a long period of joblessness, she's not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings. The office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality. The drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.  - Goodreads

Once I started reading this book, there was no way for me to stop. My reading experience was essentially this: an inability to move from my bed, an inability to stop reading hilarious lines to whoever was so lucky to be near me at the time, and, once I was alone, a lot of me giggling and/or gasping to myself. It was a great time.

From how I've described this so far, it sounds like I was reading a comedic novel. But this was easily one of the creepiest books I've ever read. The surreal take on a bureaucratic office includes a man with no face, grimy hand prints all over a claustrophobic office wall, doppelgangers, and strange strings of words leaking into the main character's mind. The thing is, Phillips' writing is just so clever. Every dose of creepy is coupled with a bit of "spot on." I couldn't help but laugh at Josephine's darkly comic thoughts about work, life, and relationships throughout.

"Josephine had yet to receive any instructions about what name or title she ought to use for her boss; her failure to ask now meant that she never would."

If you like a strange, thrilling read that feels like a puzzle and plays with language, this is the book for you. I was horrified, I was uncomfortable, and I was delighted. You may not have ANY idea what's going on most of the time as the tension continues to mount, but the pay off at the end is clean and well thought out.
Helen Phillips, be my best friend.

"As they walked, The Person with Bad Breath consumed three mints dispensed from a small tin drawn from an inner pocket. The bad breath became less offensive to Josephine when she saw that an attempt was being made to remedy it."

"Only he had stood on street corners beside her and their piled detritus. Only their two minds in the entire universe contained this same specific set of images: a particular pattern of shadow on the ceiling above a bed, a particular loop of highway ramp circled just as a song about a circle began to play on the radio. Tens of thousands of conversations and jokes. Without him she was just a lonely brain hurtling through space, laughing quietly to itself."


8/10 - A solid "what the fuck is happening" throughout.


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