The Helpline, Katherine Collette’s debut novel, has been described as “delightful, feel-good fun” by one of my favourite authors Toni Jordan. Read my review.
The Helpline Synopsis
Germaine Johnson may not be all that good with people but she’s great with numbers. Unfortunately, as she discovers after the incident at Wallace Insurance, there are very few openings these days for senior mathematicians.
Then her cousin gets her a job at the council. On the Senior Citizens Helpline.
It’s not the resume entry Germaine wanted—but it turns out Mayor Verity Bainbridge has something more interesting in mind for her. A secret project involving the troublemakers at the senior citizens centre and their feud with the golf club next door. Which is run by the strangely attractive Don Thomas.
Don and the mayor want the seniors closed down.
Germaine wants what Don and the mayor want. But when she’s forced to get to know the ‘troublemakers’—things get more complicated.
A sharp, witty, big-hearted comedy from a hilarious new Australian writer, Katherine Collette’s The Helpline is about people power and brain power—and the difficulty of getting them to work together.
(Text Publishing, September 2018)
Genre: Drama, Romance, Humour
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Firstly I just want to address comparisons to other recent bestsellers, so that readers do not go into this novel with the wrong expectations. The Helpline is far lighter than Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and its protagonist is less likeable than Graeme Simsion’s Don Tillman. That said, the great buzz about this book is warranted.
Collette’s lead character Germaine Johnson is socially inept (very bad at reading people) and so her routinely awkward interactions with others make for compelling reading.
And just like that he was gone. Disappeared, leaving me feeling like the remainder in a long-division equation. I didn’t show it. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s hiding feelings. Most people don’t know I have them.
However, in addition to her cluelessness when it comes to people, even her Mum describes her as ‘a self-promoter’. These two character traits combined yield rude and often self-serving behaviour, which is less endearing.
It was unfortunate Mayor Bainbridge knew Kimberley. Having her in common meant we often ended up talking about her and since I didn’t like Kimberley, I didn’t want to do that. I’d have preferred to talk about myself.
But that’s okay, because although Germaine may not be immediately aware of this fact, a motley group of wonderfully patient, warm-hearted and just all-round delightful people enter her life when she starts working on the Council Helpline for senior citizens. And, despite her attempts to shake them, they stick to her like glue. These are the characters readers find themselves engaging with and barracking for during Germaine’s more rude and petulant moments.
Eventually, enough evidence piles up for Germaine to finally see the light, and embark on some much-needed personal growth and a sweet romance. Particularly endearing is the evolving relationship with her hippy-dippy mother Sharon. Along the journey, readers are charmed by author Katherine Collette’s quietly quirky sense of humour.
‘So long as you’re not wallowing in self-pity,’ Sharon said.
I wasn’t wallowing in self-pity. I’d discovered old YouTube clips of Alan Cosgrove, competing in his heyday. He was a shining light in an otherwise dark room. My financial situation meant I’d been restricting electricity use.
Katherine Collette’s debut The Helpline is a highly enjoyable weekend read – one you’ll find yourself wanting to devour it in as few sittings as possible. I look forward to reading more from this author.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4.25
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Update: I have also since enjoyed Katherine Collette’s second novel The Competition.
More heartwarming reads:
The Last Bookshop by Emma Young / Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson / Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff / The Trivia Man by Deborah O’Brien / The Moroccan Daughter by Deborah Rodriguez
About the Author, Katherine Collette
Katherine Collette is a writer and environmental engineer. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and two children. The Helpline is her first novel. Check out Katherine’s website and connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.
Other reviews of The Helpline
“The character of Germaine, endearing but far from cutesy, is the great triumph of this accomplished debut.” — Sydney Morning Herald
“Collette replaces the chubby, clumsy rom-com heroine of yore with a mathematically smart, socially inept protagonist in need of redemption… Clever writing about an awkward character.” — Kirkus Reviews
“The story’s examination of brain power versus people power is delivered with wit and heart. Many readers today are searching for light but clever comic writing with a bit of a punch; they will happily find it in Katherine Collette’s debut.” — Books+Publishing
* My receiving a copy from for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.