The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

The person who interviewed her had no face. Under other circumstances—if the job market hadn't been so bleak for so long, if the summer hadn't been so glum and muggy—this might have discouraged Josephine from stepping through the door of that office in the first place. But as things were, her initial thought was: Oh, perfect, the interviewer's appearance probably deterred other applicants

After a long period of unemployment, Josephine is relieved when she gets a job, so relieved that she doesn't care to raise an eyebrow about her masked employer or the lack of windows in her office building or even the purpose of her job (entering dates next to names of people into a database). Now she had a paycheck and both she and her husband, Joseph, can soon move away from sublet apartments and buy a decent place of their own. However, instead of the security that she craved, mysterious occurrences greet her. Every person she meets at her office appear to be plain forgettable people, resembling her. With each passing day, her eyes get more bloodshot. Joseph becomes more withdrawn, not coming home some nights, causing her to wonder if he is having an affair. Their luck with apartments doesn't get better either - they move from one sublet apartment to another, each worse than the previous. To add to the mystery, she gets a delivery attempt failed note at each of her addresses, even though no one had been informed about the new addresses.

I picked up The Beautiful Bureaucrat on account of its many enthusiastic reviews around the blogosphere. However, to say that I struggled with it would be an understatement. The writing is very unemotional and mechanic, which quite suited the book but kept me from connecting with it at all. Although the strangeness of the setting intrigued me, it wasn't enough to keep me going. However, at page 75, things got interesting and I finally wanted to know what the deal was with all the mystery.

This is a short book - the only reason I persisted with it. However page 75 is almost halfway point and I generally hesitate to recommend a book when it takes a long time to pick up. The Beautiful Bureaucrat has a lot of fans though, so I would read a few reviews before deciding to read or pass it.

What disappointed me most was finishing the book and not quite getting the point of it all. There's obviously some hidden meaning to the story and if you have read the book too and have some ideas about it, I would like to hear all about it (so please email me).

The Beautiful Bureaucrat does read like a puzzle and that's something I appreciated because I love puzzles in books. I can't say that I liked the solved puzzle much but the ride was somewhat fun. The book however had a very depressing feel about it. That coupled with the detached writing made it a difficult book to read.

If you have read this book, what did you think of it?


I borrowed this book from the good old library.

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