Book Review: The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

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4/5 Stars.

Evoking comparisons to Kafka and Camus, Helen Phillips’ debut novel is a compulsively readable existential thriller for readers who enjoy cerebral stories.

Josephine Newbury accepts a mysterious job in a windowless office building where she spends day after day entering names and numbers into a database whose purpose is unclear. Surrounded by strange co-workers and increasingly curious about the nature of the database, Josephine’s anxiety and dread gradually builds. Even her husband has started acting odd, spending long hours at his office job and disappearing without any explanation.

As this uncanny narrative unfolds, Josephine uncovers the chilling truth behind the database and what it means for her and the people she holds dear.

At fewer than 200 words, The Beautiful Bureaucrat packs quite a bit into a relatively brief story. Phillips has created an eerie, sad parable about life, death, love and the somber absurdity of a universe that’s indifferent to the humans who inhabit it. It’s always a treat to read something this original and thought-provoking.

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