Franz Kafka meets Charlotte Perkins Gilman meets George Orwell in Helen Phillips’s short novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat*, a psychological thriller and modern fable that I think would be tough to put down (I wouldn’t know, since I snapped it up in two hours one night).
Josephine and her husband, Joseph, have moved to the city after months of unemployment in a last-ditch effort to find jobs. Josephine is hired by a faceless person (I mean that pretty literally) to input endless numbers in a database called, descriptively, “the Database.” Her office is one of hundreds in a huge building where keyboards click constantly, colleagues are either odd, unhelpful, or invisible, and the vending machine hasn’t been used in decades. And then there are the walls in her office: pinkish, marked with the finger-smudges of previous occupants.
The unpleasantness of Josephine’s job is compounded by the dilapidated series of subterranean apartments she and Joseph find themselves subletting in their impecunious state. And then Joseph doesn’t come home one night, refusing to give an explanation the next day, and Josephine falls into a state of nearly unceasing dread, until she realizes that in order to save the man she loves, she must take matters into her own hands.
In just under 200 pages, Helen Philips crafts a tightly-woven story about love and necessity with perfect pacing, incongruously witty wordplay, and deft characterization. Recommended.
And, Dear Readers, here’s a new game I’m going to play occasionally:
Carolyn Tells People with the Film Rights to This Book What to Do :
Who should direct the film adaptation: Spike Jonze
Who should play Josephine: Michelle Williams (in the mode of Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz)
Who should do the music: David Arnold & Michael Price
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.