Sunday, September 6, 2015

Staff Review: The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

The Beautiful Bureaucrat is, at exactly 180 pages, not a long novel (the pedantic might say novella), but author Helen Phillips does not skimp on the emotional walloping. In respect of Phillips's dense brevity, I'll do my best to keep this review short, too. I almost said "short and sweet," but that didn't seem right when discussing a book that left me feeling like my guts had been hollowed out -- yet still, somehow, hopeful.

If you have ever been young and unemployed, no matter how many applications you send or interviews you go to, or if you've clung to a terrible, soul-deadening job to avoid falling into unemployment, you'll probably be able to relate to Josephine, our story's main character. Josephine and her equally young husband Joseph moved from the suburbs (hinterlands) to the city for a chance at something better, but instead found months of unemployment and struggle.

Things are looking up as the story starts: Josephine and Joseph have both recently found employment. Josephine does her best to ignore the fact that her new job is a nightmare of isolation and data entry. But as her job slowly becomes more nightmarish, and Joseph becomes more absorbed into his seemingly more satisfying work, Josephine is left with only isolation and the worry that she will never have the life that she aspires to.

Phillips's writing is compelling, though readers should expect a fair amount of wordplay. If puns are not your thing, this might not be the book for you. (Mild Spoilers Ahead!) I should also provide a warning for readers who might not want to read about miscarriage, or who are frustrated by ambiguous endings.

~Sarah, Adult Services

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