Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (330 pages)
Rating: 2.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

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.

There are some books that stay with the reader far after the last page…and this is one of those books.

I picked up a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadette at the urging of my book club. They all raved about this novel, so I figured it must be something I needed to read. I’m glad I got the chance to delve into Bernadette’s world. She’s definitely an interesting character. If there was ever a case-study in eccentricity, then she should be near the top of the list. She’s very complex and took a while to understand. I’ll get back to her in a moment.

I have to admit, by looking at the cover and listening to the feedback from friends, I thought this would be a breezy beach-type read. It’s not. The style of writing takes the form of letters and emails and is told through the perspective of Bernadette’s daughter. At times, it’s confusing and at other times, well, I wanted to pitch the book across the room.

Why? For being so smart and eccentric, Bernadette is a mess. I rather liked her, though. She’s been through some read crud in her life and she deals with in her own way. I could empathize with her frustrations with the world. She claims to be agoraphobic to the point of needing a personal assistant she doesn’t have to see in order to get through her day. In reality, she just doesn’t like people. She’s been frustrated so much in her life that she’s shut down. Haven’t we all had moments where we want to throw our hands in the air in defeat? As much as I liked her messiness and her issues, I got a tad tired of them.

Then there is the husband. He’s a piece of work. He’s ridiculously smart and compartmentalizes…everything. I liked that he had some issues–like not seeing Bernadette’s issues much earlier on–but again, I tired of him being so self-centered. He’s got a woman on the side, which I didn’t appreciate. If cheaters in the book aren’t well liked, then this might be a book to take a pass on. But more than that, when the husband does realize there’s an issue, he goes overboard.

I guess that’s my biggest issue with this book. Yes, it’s a satire, but it’s so far overboard that sometimes I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to keep reading. I walked away from this book quite a few times before I actually finished it. I only finished it because I had to know what the ultimate outcome was–which I thought came rather abruptly and with little closure.

This might not have been the right book for me, but if you’re interested in a book that takes place vividly in Seattle and want to read about characters that are a little off the mark, then this might be the novel for you.

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