Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

In brief: Bernadette is a lady of many talents who gets into many scrapes. But how can she just disappear?

The good: Love the emails and letters, plus Bernadette is a one in a million character

The not-so-good: The story ended!

Why I chose it: Sent to me by Anna at The Reading Room – thank you, I did love it!

Year: 2012

Pages: 324 (ARC)

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Setting: North America, South America and Antarctica

My rating: 9 out of 10

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is one of those books I’d always meant to read but never got that far towards it. The cover grabbed me at first (who can’t resist the Jackie O glasses and head scarf?) and the positive reviews had me thinking, I should read this! So when Anna from The Reading Room (who has impeccable taste in books!) offered me a copy to read, I simply had to take her up on her kind offer. I ripped through this book in just a few days – it’s the kind of book that consumes your thoughts even while you’re not reading it. You might be hard at work, then chuckle over one of Bernadette’s comments to the ‘gnats of Galer Street’ (translation: other mums at her daughter’s school) and have everyone wonder what’s going on. You might be cooking dinner and start to wonder whether Microsoft’s Samantha 2 really does exist. It’s a book that takes you over.

Bernadette is predominantly an epistolary novel, which is something I love in books. It’s almost like approved snooping, reading all these emails, letters and documents between the characters. The letters wear off in the latter part of the novel, mainly because the setting doesn’t lend itself to communication in that way, but the first part is almost exclusively documents. There are emails, faxes, letters, instant messaging and school newsletters that tell the story of the genius Bernadette, now wayward mother of the Galer Street School who lives in a crumbling old mansion on a hill. The prose in between is filled by Bee, Bernadette’s daughter.

Bernadette never wanted to come to Seattle, but now she’s stuck here as her husband works at Microsoft. Formerly an architect with a flair of genius, Bernadette now occupies her time in her caravan outside the family home. She’s rarely seen out and about, except for taking Bee to and from school. (She has a digital personal assistant for that kind of thing). When Bee announces she wants to go to Antarctica, everything starts to go awry. There’s the dramatic moment in a pharmacy and the clearing of the blackberry bushes that ends in disaster. Poor Bernadette just can’t win and everyone around her begins to worry for her safety. Then Bernadette disappears…

This is a raucously funny novel – the emails between two of the mothers at Bee’s school are hilarious, as are Bernadette’s extreme reactions to their biddings. I’m not sure how insightful the Microsoft employment part is, but I found it terrifically interesting as a techno geek. The interplay between the characters and how they all get completely tangled up is a testament to Semple’s skills in plotting. Although the Seattle whinging was somewhat lost on me as an Aussie (Seattle = Grey’s Anatomy for me), I loved the snarkiness that Bernadette uses to describe the place and residents (especially the roads!). Simply put, you must read this book! Sure, it’s somewhat fantastical at times but at its heart is a mother who would do anything for her daughter and a father who loves Bee more than she knows.

12 thoughts on “Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Add yours

  1. “The not-so-good: The story ended!” – I couldn’t agree more. I avoided picking up this for no reason I can remember. Then when I actually read it and I got to the end, I wanted to start it over again

  2. My Mum has just passed this one over to me – she loved it, but then she is a Bernadette herself. I am quite intrigued, it has had such great reviews!

  3. This book sounds wonderfully entertaining and enjoyable. Your comment about hating that the book ended prompted me to place it at the top of my tbr list. Thanks for such a terrific review and recommendation!

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