I recently saw Helen Phillips on a panel where writers discussed the architecture of their books. She spoke about how her slim novel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat was, at one point, 350 pages long. It is just about half that now and, rather than cut it down, I think I understand that she rewrote it from the ground up in order to work toward the book that so many of us have now read. This is all to say that years of grueling effort went into this book and yet, I read it in an afternoon, as time must have been passing around me, as time does, but I was unaware.


This book is engrossing and transporting from page one, in a way that feels effortless. It’s structure is perfect, every word choice is ideal, the little word games that pepper the text are both charming and moving, and the tone is a carefully calibrated mix of suspense, foreboding, humor, satire and romance. So, what Phillips has done is put so much hard work and effort into the book as to make her hard work and effort invisible. I don’t know if all writers strive for this effect, but I certainly do. I read The Beautiful Bureaucrat with both admiration and envy.

I don’t want to say too much else except that this is a book in which the fact that two of of the very limited cast of characters are named “The Person with Bad Breath” and “Trishiffany” coexists with one of the most wrenching, moving final scenes in recent memory. This book deserves all the hype it is getting and more.