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The Beautiful Bureaucrat

3.23  ·  Rating details ·  3,970 ratings  ·  703 reviews
A young wife's new job in an enigmatic organization pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe in this inventive and compulsively page-turning first novel

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
Hardcover, 180 pages
Published August 11th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Penny They dead . Sorry, shuffled off to ensure they do not gum up the works again.

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Mar 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: free-from-work
to pull off a book like this successfully, it needs to either be very strong in concept or very strong in character, and i don't think this book did either particularly well. it's not that you can't hang a book on a series of striking images, but you can't do that and also make me like it.

as far as the concept goes; i've read variations of this theme in many different works from kafka and orwell and melville in the "work is soul-killing and bureaucracy surreal" aspect to jonathan carroll in thi

How to define The Beautiful Bureaucrat? This might be the biggest problem with this slim book and slight tale: it doesn’t seem to know what it is. Is it a thriller? A dystopian? A mystery? A combination of all three? Faintly echoing parts of 1984, The Beautiful Bureaucrat tells of office drone Josephine, who accepts a position entering data all day, every day. Then she realizes what the data mean. It seems that from here this story could morph into a heart-pumping dystopian thri
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, my-reviews
Sometimes I pick up a book just because of the cover or the title and I know nothing about the book itself. My daughter works at the US State Dept. and the cover reminded me of her in an odd way. It is a short book, almost a novella, so I thought "why not?"

Holy Smokes! I read the book in one sitting and thought "what the hell did I just read?" I took a breath and read it again and wept! My gosh! I haven't read a book like this since my university days! Most reviewers are labeling this little ta
"The cruel noise of keys, shoving, twisting, was she at the wrong door in the wrong building on the wrong street in the wrong neighborhood in the wrong city in the wrong state in the wrong country on the wrong planet."

Having finished this book, I can confidently tell you that I cannot enlighten you as to the answers of any of those questions. But, for approximately 174 of 177 pages, I had a pretty great time wondering and turned pages at the rapid pace of the quoted passage above. However, as I
Diane S ☔
Jun 26, 2015 rated it liked it
3.5 I just finished this and am still not sure of what I read. A fever dream, a hallucination, possibly a nightmare, maybe all of them? All I know is that I started reading this and was hooked, wanted to find out what was going on.

Josephine and Joseph move to the city from the hinterlands where they were unable to find jobs. At first in the city things do not seem much better, but than miracle of miracles they both find jobs. Josephine, hired by someone whose face she cannot clearly see, a face
Tom Mathews
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of Kafka, Saramago, or magical realism.
Recommended to Tom by: Amazon Vine program
Shelves: arc, read-in-2015
I’m still not sure what prompted me to get this book. I’ve never read Kafka and I don’t ordinarily go in for magical realism. Besides, a book about a woman whose job is constantly entering numbers into a database (excuse me. ‘Database’) sounds too much like my own life to be called fantasy. Okay, Ursula Le Guin did gush over it and she has never let me down but still, what was I thinking?

I don’t know, but I’m sure glad I did. I was hooked from the first paragraph:
The person who interviewed her h
Aug 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2016
Dreamy (hallucinatory?), imaginative and completely bizarre. I loved this strange little book but I suspect from the low rating that I am in the minority here.

This is one I may read again sometime just to savor Ms. Phillips' inventiveness and imagery.
Julianne (Outlandish Lit)
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 b
Lorrea - WhatChaReadin'?
Josephine Jones has just move to the big city and is in need of a job. She finds one where her job is to input information into a database. She will sit in an office with smudged pink walls, in a building with no windows. Her only job is to enter the information and don't ask questions. But curiosity is a part of human nature. Will she be able to continue the job when she discovers what it is she is really doing?

Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt for the opportunity to read and review this bo
David Katzman
Mar 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
Having read two books in a row that were surrealist by female authors, I’ve decided to write a combined review comparing my reactions to them. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman and The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips. I will refer to them henceforth as YTCHABLM and TBB.

When I began YTCHABLM, I thought it was going to be a contemporary version of Generation X by Douglas Coupland, and it initially threw me off as it evolved unexpectedly from real to surreal, but once
Read 5/28/15 - 6/4/15
4 Stars - Highly Recommended, a great example of a small press author who maintains her style as she publishes with the big boys
Pages: 177
Publisher: Henry Holt/Macmillian
Releases: August 2015

I first read Helen Phillips back in 2011, when she released And Yet They Were Happy with Leapfrog Press, a collection of two-page long vignettes that told the story of a recently married couple as they attempt to build their home among all sorts of natural and supernatural disasters. I w
AmberBug com*
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, netgalley, arc review

Dear Reader,

What the heck just happened? Should I care? I loved the ride. This story was like a waking dream, an insomniac walking the streets so tired they start to see things that shift, liquify, change into strange. I would have classified this book as magical realism but Goodreads doesn't... what's up with that? Not that Goodreads is the say all for genre classification. Sentences and thoughts such as; "what's it like to eat three hours? She was feeling impish. How d
I heard about this book from some other book review on NPR or the New York Times. I'm sorry, normally I keep better track of those things, but for some reason I didn't write it down this time. The reason I was intrigued after reading that review was because it referred to this book as a sort of "office space dystopia."

I liked the sound of that because I work in an office space and it often feels like a dystopia. It also sucks my soul and makes me want to die. Let me read about others who want to
Aug 15, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
At a slim 135 pages (Kindle version, in Amazon’s sexy new Bookerly font), Helen Phillips’s book reads more like a novella than a fully-fledged novel. Indeed, I also think it would have worked far better as a novel if she had focused more on the relationship between Joseph and Josephine, which implodes so suddenly and so dramatically that I was caught rather unawares.

Also, one is able to guess the big Plot Twist well before the end, which deprives the denouement of much of its power. A good descr
Betsy Robinson
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Imagine that Samuel Beckett were a young female writer who decided to write a novella about the Akashic records.

This is short, well written, entertaining, and will appeal to people who enjoy the surreal.
The description from the back: A young wife's new job in an enigmatic organization pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a weird and interesting little book with a strange cast of characters and eerie settings. Josephine and her husband begin mind-numbing database entry jobs that turn out to be anything but ordinary! I felt a sense of foreboding throughout the entire book, as if there was something ominous lurking behind the bare, stained walls.
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Full review: Definitely not my cup of tea, this one. Confirmation that overall I can tell when a book is something I will enjoy much. It was definitely unique and different. I could identify many writing strategies employed, but, unfortunately that meant I was definitely not
engaged with the story itself. Honestly, I never would have read it if not for several bloggers I follow having loved it. And although I wasn't attracted to it myself, I decided to f
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably the best book I've read all year. If you're hesitant to read sci fi, I would say this is sci fi "light". Meaning it won't overwhelm you. It's a story of a married couple who move to a city for a better life. The wife finally gets a job as a bureaucrat in a mysterious company. We aren't told much about the world they live in but it's certainly odd. It's only enough to give you a weird feeling that makes the story become increasing curious. I love the word plays and it's very clev ...more
Okay, so I didn't dislike this as much as some readers. But I didn't love it either, and so I think a right-down-the-middle 3 stars is the proper score for a book I alternately kinda liked and then couldn't-wait-for-it-to-end.

Many other reviews refer to this as "Kafka-esque" or magic realism, neither of which I'm real familiar with, so both of which could be right. But for me, it reminded me more specifically of Philip K. Dick's short story "The Adjustment Team" (which was made into the film "Th
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had a little read of other reviews while I was debating what mine would be and they're pretty negative.
This book is a little bit weird and very ambiguous, but that's why I liked it. Questions were answered and not answered, the ending was what you make of it and I must have been in the mood for this type of book. I really rather enjoyed.
Perhaps an open mind and no expectations are required, or maybe just be a little bit weird yourself 😉
Sarah at Sarah's Bookshelves
Visit my blog,, for the full review:

Helen Phillips’ debut novel is a tiny ball of weirdness…reminiscent of a demented “Office Space”…that had me on the edge of my seat.

What I Loved:

- I was on the edge of my seat virtually the entire time I was reading. I just had to know…what the heck is going on here?! The entire book feels like a riddle that the reader needs to unravel. And, once the the riddle of Josephine’s company has been solved, you’re left with much broader que
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
It seems a bit Grumpy of me to give the book two stars instead of three, but I also feel like I need to hurry up and review it before I decide to make it just one.

The set-up is intriguing, and the language (at first, anyway) so lively and engaging that I decided to get this from the library after it passed the Read The First Page test at a bookstore. It's a quick read, what with only 190 or so small pages, and lots of white space to boot, but it felt more like an exercise than a fully realized
Kristen Shaw
Sep 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: magic-realism
Interesting and unsettling. A contemporary take on magical realism and the uncanny mixed with speculative fiction. People have compared this unfavourably to Borges and Kafka, which seems a little unfair. I like that this novel addresses similar existential issues, but from the perspective of a woman. And, unlike Borges and Kafka, where the unreality of their fictions is depersonalized, almost fable-like in that the protagonists stand in for the philosophical "every man," The Beautiful Bureaucrat ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was ok

I listened to this book on audio CD because I'm trying to get more into magical realism as a genre.

I liked the conceit of the story--that Josephine is unknowingly typing the death dates of strangers into a database--but I'm not sure that the story arc made the best use of the author's worldbuilding. Josephine becomes completely obsessed with a potential pregnancy, and that's the only momentum the author seems interested in, but I tend to check out of stories where a woman goes bonkers
Aug 21, 2015 rated it did not like it
This is a surrealistic story, making sense only as a narrative of a nightmare. It is a short story, not a novel, although it is being marketed as one. I read it in an hour. The story is slight. It's not very interesting. It doesn't succeed as a metaphor or as a study in irony. 1950's Japanese horror movies (dubbed!) are deeper. The movie Gremlins has more to say about the human condition than this book does. Some people here have compared it to Kafka, in tone if not in talent. I can't really dis ...more
In Helen Phillips's fabulist novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat, we’re treated to some heavy philosophical ruminations about life and mortality. What does it mean to be alive in face of our physical vulnerabilities and the smallness of our existence? To be specks in the grand universe…a number on a spreadsheet? Ponder the sheer implications of it for a moment and get underneath the crust of complacency/delusion, and you are thrust into something akin to exhilaration perhaps? Anxiety? Paranoia?

May 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 Even though I could predict where the story would go, I couldn’t put this book down. I loved the detailed descriptions and the main character’s dream-like (nightmare?) interludes.
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: Off the Shelf 7/2019
This was an incredibly intriguing read. I never knew where it was going, but I knew something was going to happen. How can one NOT be drawn in by a book whose first line is "The person who interviewed her had no face."?
Short but it pulls you in, quickly.
May 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: review-books, 2015
[5 stars]

It feels like everyone and their refrigerator has been talking about this book for forever, and yet it’s only just been released this week. So maybe not *everyone* is talking about it, but certainly in the circles in which I run. If you’re NOT talking about it, well you should consider it. I don’t even know where to begin with this book. I had some mildly excessive hype going into it, but luckily it more than lived up to the challenge.

This tells the story of a young, married couple who
Wendy Cosin
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Beautiful Bureaucrat is an inventive story and a quick read. Dystopian but familiar, it portrays a dismal future.

Josephine and Joseph leave the safety of the hinterlands to find work in a big city. They can only afford weekly sublets in apartments that become ever drearier. The story focuses on Josephine's new job as a bureaucrat entering data in a mysterious database. Her windowless office (..." she realized it wasn't just years of tack holes and tape that made these walls look so tired. T
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Helen Phillips is the author of five books, including, most recently, the novel THE NEED. Her collection SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS received the 2017 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT, a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her collection AND YET THEY WERE HAPPY w ...more

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