Where'd You Go, Bernadette
By Maria Semple
First published: August 2012 by Little, Brown and Company
Read: 27 - 30 January 2014
Links: Goodreads | Amazon
Author online: Website | Facebook
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. (Goodreads)
Oh, Bernadette. Where do I even start with you? I had read so much praise for this book and I'm pleased to say it's all deserved. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is simply delightful in every way.
It is an epistolary novel, made up of various written documents which bit by bit reveal the story of Bernadette Fox and help explain how she became the woman she is today. It is all weaved together by notes from Bernadette's daughter Bee. This style is very effective, adding to the mystery and providing different perspectives. The last part of the book is Bee telling us how it all turned out in the end – and what a great, satisfactory ending it was.
The book is fun and witty, but also poignant and touching. Through it all there's an underlying sadness, and you can feel it building up to something terrible. I reached a point where I almost didn't want to read any further because I was dreading what was coming, but at the same time there was no way I could stop because I absolutely needed to know what happened.
The cast of characters is quite amazing, and to be honest I think everyone is a little crazy on some level. In addition to the relationship between Bernadette and her family, Bee and Elgin, I found the dynamics between her and her neighbour, fellow school mum and nemesis Audrey Griffin, very interesting, and it did not go where I thought it would. Then again, neither did a lot of the story.
Bottom line: Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a funny and heartwarming novel with memorable characters and a lot of heart. It will stay with you long after you've turned the last page.