The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips


I was very excited to read this book, as I had a bit of insight into the writing of this book.  At BookCon, in May of this year, I was lucky enough to attend a session with an author, an agent, and an editor to learn about the process of a book being published through the eyes of each of these essential figures.  It was this book that was discussed at that session, and each of the individuals was really interesting to listen to.  The author spoke of the arduous process of writing the book, delivering it to the agent, who initially rejected it.  It went back to the author, who sat on it for a year (during which she’d given birth to her daughter) and then she went about the process of trimming it down quite a bit.  The new version went back to the agent, who now liked it and passed it on to the editor.  The editor, in turn, then felt it needed to be filled in just a bit and so some detail was added to the book – and then it was published.  It was a surprisingly drawn out process, the making of this book.  It really made me appreciate how many authors spend years writing and possibly never get published.  On the other hand, those who do get published, may need to be flexible and responsive to many opinions.

Unfortunately, this book was very different from the books I usually enjoy – and I’m having a hard time trying to describe it.  It’s a futuristic glimpse of a woman, Josephine, balancing a boring/rote job with her life as a married woman.  Her boss remains throughout the story identified only as “The Person with Bad Breath” and never even attains a gender.  Her husband, Joseph, disappears frequently without explanation and somehow makes all the decisions about where they are to live, switching them from apartment to apartment with no input from Josephine.  The ending is something of a twist on each of their jobs and somehow makes a very bizarre statement about the determination of birth and death.

I think the problem with the story, besides the obvious bizarre details, is that none of the characters is at all real.  Even Josephine, who is the main character, remains 2-dimensional.  Her husband, Joseph, is even more remote and unrealistic.  I think this is intentional, giving each an automaton-like feel, but it does not do anything to really engage the reader.

Not my favorite, unfortunately…