Title: The Helpline
Author: Katherine Collette
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Publication Date: 30 July 2019 (Kindle) & 23 January 2020 (paperback)
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Office life can be a minefield . . .
Germaine Johnson likes Sudoku, biscuits and maths. She is great with numbers and not so great with people. But after an incident at work leaves her jobless, she’s forced to accept a position she’s entirely wrong for: answering the phones of the Senior Citizen’s Helpline.
However, it turns out that the role involves a more interesting secret project: to shut down the local community centre and stop the elderly ‘troublemakers’ in their tracks. Germaine initially believes she is the no-nonsense woman for the job – until she gets to know the very people she’s trying to evict.
As the rebelling senior citiziens begin to open Germaine’s eyes to a life outside boxes and numbers, she realises that she may be the only one capable of pulling their feuding community together . . .
The Helpline is the debut novel from Australian author, Katherine Collette. It follows larger-than-life protagonist, Germaine Johnson. Germaine is a quirky character. Lover of mathematics, orderliness and Sudoku, she’s socially awkward and displays a singular lack of tact, saying what she thinks regardless of the consequences or of people’s feelings.
Finding herself unemployed after losing her long-term job at an insurance company, Germaine finds alternative employment at a senior citizens helpline. As it turns out, Germaine’s lack of empathy and poor social skills may not be the best combination for a helpline position! Germaine comically decides to improve her department’s stats by reducing call time and increasing productivity, a move which proves very unpopular with both her colleagues and their callers. The story offers a very amusing look at office politics – something that most of us will have experienced at some stage in our working lives!
Germaine’s unique way of working brings her to the attention of Mayor Verity Bainbridge who assigns Germaine a ‘special’ and secret project dealing with the troublemaking managers of a local senior citizens centre who have been causing havoc in their attempts to prevent golfers from the neighbouring club from using the centre’s car park. Germaine is determined to prove her worth and help the Mayor and the Mayor’s friend (the owner of the golf club in question) resolve the problem, although matters may not be quite as straightforward as she first imagined.
I initially found Germaine difficult to relate to, yet as the story progressed I found her oddly compelling and I started to warm to this unusual character. Collette’s characterisation is both compassionate and accepting. The story is told in first person narrative, which provides valuable insight into Germaine’s thoughts and feelings. It is interesting to watch how Germaine’s character develops over the course of the book, particularly her level of awareness both of herself and of what is happening around her. Germaine comes across as really quite lonely and I found it satisfying to witness how she gradually learns the importance of connecting with other people. Her quirkiness and eccentricity makes Germaine a wonderfully entertaining character.
Collette is a natural storyteller and the diagrams and charts in the book are a great additional touch, emphasising Germaine’s methodical and organised personality.
The Helpline is a wonderfully witty and light-hearted tale of determination, greed and friendship. This is a book not to be missed! Amusing, heart-warming and ultimately uplifting – the book is a perfect ‘pick-me-up’ for a dark, cold January day. Plus, the paperback version will be released in 2 weeks’ time, so why not give it a go…
A big thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of the book for review purposes.
About the Author
Katherine Collette is the author of The Helpline (Text Publishing, 2018). The Helpline was longlisted for the 2019 Indie Book Awards and will be released in North America, the UK and Italy in 2019.
Katherine also co-hosts The First Time podcast with author Kate Mildhenhall. Part reality show, part writers masterclass, The First Time is about the first time you publish a book. Season one followed Katherine through the publication of The Helpline and listeners got to hear as she traversed all the major milestones, from getting an agent, to signing contracts, book launch, etc. The podcast also includes interviews with top Australian writers including Graeme Simsion, Toni Jordan, Melanie Cheng and more…