What. The. Actual. Frak. Is. This?

Written by
Helen Phillips in 2015

So let’s get this out of the way, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is short, sharp and fucking weird. Also, because of this, and the very abrupt end, I suspect it’s also quite a polarising book. A book about everything and nothing at all, all focused on four characters who don’t seem to have any personality. Kind of like visiting a government office.

Josephine and her husband Joseph have been unemployed for a while, but they move to a big city to find work. They can’t believe their luck when they’re both accepted into bureaucratic jobs that paid a decent wage. Despite having to move around a lot with subletting, their lives manage to get on track, and focus on trying to have a kid.

It’s not long though before Josephine starts wondering what exactly her department does. All that seems to happen is that she processes a lot of boring paperwork with letters and numbers all arranged in code. And codes are never a good thing to place in front of a curious young mind. The rest of the story is about the discovery of said purpose and what it means for their lives.

The strangeness of the book’s events is of course mirrored by the complete normality and greyness of Josephine and Joseph (though their relationship is…well not normal either). I mean, that one semi-rape scene was just completely not what I’d have expected between two characters who are described to be having the most mundane of relationships.

Josephine is completely grey, so much so that most of the bureaucrats she shares a floor with look like her, wear similar clothes and work in an office similar to her own. And the office building she works in feels…alive, with sound and it makes her physical condition deteriorate rapdily. It does add to the creepiness factor of the story, but at only 130 pages in total, it’s not long enough to actually be creepy. Especially since the end screams “totally strange and unsatisfying”.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a metaphor. I just don’t know what for. Is it about life, death and the meaning of the universe? Is it about how people have boring, unimaginative jobs? Or just that some people are destined to have shitty lives in shitty jobs? Or that some books need a bit more exposition to make sense? The answer to all these questions lie elsewhere, because I certainly didn’t find any closure on this story here.


One filing cabinet out of five, with some partially completed paperwork.

Read this if you…

Are currently, right now, on a heady mix of alcohol and drugs.

Skip this if you…

Have a hangover and really just need to lie down.


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