Book Review: Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, BernadetteMaria Semple- Where’d You Go Bernadette?

Format- Paperback

Source- Review copy

Publisher- Hachette/ Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Publication date- June 2012

Synopsis- Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Review-  Where’d You Go Bernadette is a quirky novel whereby the story unfolds through various written pieces from notes between Bernadette and her Virtual Assistant from India, to letters between her neighbour and a blackberry eradicator along with emails and police reports; all interspersed with first person accounts of Bee who provides her input into what was happening up to the lead up of her mother’s disappearance. For the first two thirds of the book Bee seems a lot younger than her fourteen years but by the end she is displaying typical teenage rebellious behaviour but above all she’s angry at her dad and she misses her mum.

There’s an undertone of satire in this novel and the author skilfully sets up scenes that allow the reader to ‘read between the lines,’ which made it quite engaging. Each of the characters- Bee, her mum Bernadette and her father Elgie have both internal and relational conflicts to overcome and this is portrayed well via the various written communication in the novel.

Bernadette is a social phobic and rarely leaves the home, opting for her virtual assistant to organise her grocery shopping deliveries and booking dental appointments and thanksgiving dinners. Once an architectural icon, now a recluse with no friends. She begins to decline nearing the departure for their family holiday to Antarctica. I found it fascinating how the series of events led her husband to believe she was mentally unwell… which is actually kind of understandable… but essentially how lack of communication in a family unit can make a series of small innuendos become exaggerated and resulting in an ‘intervention’ by the FBI and a psychiatrist. I was also surprised by the romantic sub-plot that develops between Elgie and his narcissistic assistant Soo Lee but was relieved when this was further explained- though not completely resolved by the end of the story.

Where’d You Go Bernadette is a witty novel about a family getting into a big mess and how they are able to reconnect and come out stronger on the other side. If you enjoy quirky characters, unusual story structure and satire then get your hands on this one and have a good laugh.

3.5/5 rating


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