The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen PhillipsThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Published by Henry Holt and Company on August 11, 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Magical Realism, Thrillers
Pages: 192
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
IndieBoundBarnes & Noble

A young wife's new job pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe in this dazzling first novel Ursula K. Le Guin hails as "funny, sad, scary, beautiful. I love it."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.As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond. Both chilling and poignant, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a novel of rare restraint and imagination. With it, Helen Phillips enters the company of Murakami, Bender, and Atwood as she twists the world we know and shows it back to us full of meaning and wonder-luminous and new.

This wasn’t the most surprising book in the world. Its premise isn’t terribly new, and I was a little disappointed to have figured out some things too early on, too easily—revelations which would have been much more satisfying had I been kept in the dark longer. Yet…I still wanted to read ahead. I had to find out what the seemingly nonsensical mess of characters on each report meant. And I always appreciate when an author keeps me wanting to turn the page, even when I think I have everything figured out. At the end, Phillips had another surprise up her sleeve, one that caught me completely off guard. Loved that!

So overall, this was a really good read. It doesn’t take much dystopia and magical realism to make me swoon. Add in mystery, thrill, and a dash of creepy—icing on the cake. I’m looking forward to future novels by Phillips, and I’m putting her collection of short pieces on my TBR list right away.

Drinking game edition: Take a shot whenever you read the word hinterland!

Check out reviews of The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Heather at Bee’s Book Buzz and April at The Steadfast Reader.


  • I’m wondering what it was you guessed early on (maybe you’ll share in the Socratic Salon discussion?)! There was one part of the story that I guessed (I’m usually not that good of a plot guesser), but there was so much else that surprised me about this book that I wasn’t that annoyed to have guessed one piece of it.

  • “It doesn’t take much dystopia and magical realism to make me swoon. ” SAME FOR SURE.

  • Now I want this. Even if it started out rough for you, your conclusion makes me want to swoon too hahaha.

  • Monika, I’m 60% of the way through this one and I’m DYING to read more!! Also, totally rethinking my routine of eating lunch at my desk – hahaha! I can’t wait to finish and to join in on The Socratic Salon discussion later this month!

  • I loved this book too. It was just so…different…from my usual fare. And I’m such an oblivious reader, most things take me by surprise. I guess I just take books as they come and don’t try to think ahead? I don’t know. But I didn’t see the ending coming!

  • I love the drinking game aspect and wish I would have known about it before I started reading this book!

    This book did not work so well for me but I do agree that I’ll be interested to see what she does next.