The Helpline is Katherine Collette's debut novel.
Germaine Johnson loves math and sudukos. She firmly believes that a formula can be found for everything in life. But such is not the case when an unfortunate happenstance at her insurance company job results in her being let go. But through a family connection she lands a job on a senior citizen's telephone helpline.
Although it is never specified, it is apparent that Germaine is somewhere on a spectrum - Asperger's? A telephone hotline is probably not the best fit for someone with her interests. But an unscrupulous city official has recognized that Germaine's naivete and attraction to a male Suduko player can be exploited.
And this is the part that saddened me. She has been taken advantage of more that once - the insurance company situation is particularly disheartening. But counterbalancing that are her new fellow employees at the council office. They are a quirky bunch, but for the most part good-hearted and accepting. They provide a needed balance to offset the nefarious mayor and counterparts. The seniors at the community center are also kind. And are also being taken advantage of.
And yes, you can see where the book is going to go. Can Germaine see and participate in life beyond the narrow constraints she has set for herself? Find friends and a new place for herself? Do the seniors take back their center? And is the mayor thwarted?
I liked the premise, but I must admit to having a harder time liking Germaine. I felt like I should be drawn to her as she's the lead character. But I wasn't. She is written with many hard edges and an inability to feel sympathy or empathy. This may be attributable to her 'condition', but I think I was expecting someone more like Don in The Rosie Project. Likable.
There are some funny moments in The Helpline. (I enjoyed the workplace fight for the biscuits) But I didn't find so many that I agreed with the idea that this would be a charmingly funny debut.
The ending provides a turn that I think it supposed to be humourous, but it fell flat for me and only solidified my inability to be on board with Germaine. Sadly, this book was just okay for me.
Aussie Jane U’Brien was the reader. Her voice is easy to interpret and listen to. She gives supporting players easily distinguishable voices and tones. She interprets the work well, giving movement to the words. There are easily differentiated from Germaine's voice. For Germain, she has used a lower timbre with a growly tone that suited the cantankerous tone of Germaine's thoughts and actions. This voice suited, But. Germaine is a difficult character to depict as she is described as speaking in a flat and often monotone voice. U'Brien did a good job of narrating the book. Listen to an excerpt.
Others quite liked The Helpline - you can find those reviews on Goodreads.