beautiful bureaucrat helen phillips

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 11th 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 192
Buy from IndieBound


After both her and her husband struggle to find work for far too long, Josephine is thrilled when she’s hired to work on “The Database”. In a windowless building that takes up several city blocks, she works in a small office, entering strangely coded numbers in an increasingly mind-numbing task. Over time, Josephine’s once supportive husband grows distant and work on The Database wears at her until she is desperate to discover its true purpose.

In just 192 pages, The Beautiful Bureaucrat packs in the tension of the best thrillers with a double dose of “WHAT IS GOING ON?” for good measure. And Helen Phillips uses every inch of those 192 pages to tell her story, forcing readers to puzzle out the narrative until the very last moment, while also filling them with fabulous wordplay.

“On the wall above the children, there was a poster:



What’s it like to eat three hours? She was feeling impish. How do they taste? Like cotton candy or grass or concrete?”

So many novels of this style wind up either frustratingly confusing or too neat, but Phillips finds a delicate balance with what she chooses to reveal in the end. Both a puzzle and a meditation on life, work, and choice, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is the kind of book you finish and immediately begin again—not because you have to, but you want to.



  • The writing here was SO immediately engaging, I couldn’t help but swallow this one whole in a day. I wanted more from the ending, but I think I’m just greedy. :)

    • I devoured it in a day, too!
      I usually *think* I want more from an ending like this, but I think part of the fun is having some unanswered questions to mull over.

  • I LOVED how Phillips used word play to show how Josephine was becoming increasingly unhinged….how she’d hear a few different word combinations that were somewhat similar to the original statement. She created such an otherworldly feeling from start to finish…it felt a little like the dream-like quality of Lost in Translation to me.

    On a completely different note…some reason your recent posts haven’t been coming up on my Bloglovin’ feed. Not sure if its just me or more broad? This has happened to me before and I just emailed Bloglovin support and they updated my feed. Just thought I’d let you know.

    • Yes, the wordplay was SO great. It totally added to the creepy feeling and definitely made the book feel like it was going off the rails a little bit. I loved it!

      I’ll double check Bloglovin’, but it could be that I’ve had a few posts I tweaked in the morning and posted instead of scheduling to post at midnight like I usually do, so they just might not have showed up yet.

  • “The Beautiful Bureaucrat is the kind of book you finish and immediately begin again—not because you have to, but you want to.” YES to this. I read it already, and have SO many deep, intense thoughts about it (which are all spoilery, so I will have to same them for TSS discussion), but it’s led me to this place where I don’t know how to review it to capture what I want to say. I think I need to read it again….

  • This one is next up on my list and now I’m REALLY excited!! Thank you, Shannon!! I can’t wait to get started! I’m currently reading Everybody Rise, which I really like, so far; just enough pretentious behavior and despair to keep me interested. :)

  • Your review makes me want to run out and get this book right now! Agh… waiting is hard. :)

  • I pre-ordered this one and CANNOT wait to receive it. I haven’t been this excited about a book in a long time.

  • I was just reading an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin, who stubbornly refused to recommend any authors other than Helen Phillips and Kij Johnson. And I was like “yeah, but what do they *write*”. Well, now I know!

  • Sounds intriguing. “The Database” — I think I did that job once ha!

  • Karen White

    Definitely intriguing…thanks for the giveaway!

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  • Heather

    I can’t wait to read this!

  • Oooo this does sound interesting! I wasn’t interested based on the title and cover, but I love the quote you included, and it all sounds excellent.

  • This sounds great! I’ve been wanting to get more into the thriller genre.

  • Diane D

    I received a copy of this one last week and thought it sounded awesome. Thanks for sharing

  • Amy Sachs

    I didn’t realize this was as short as it is! Based on everything I’ve heard, I can’t wait to get my hands on this!

  • Shea

    I’ve had my eye on this book for awhile. I can’t wait to read it!

  • I couldn’t put this book down — it was so delightfully creepy! I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending, but I don’t really have a better ending in mind.

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