I picked up Where’d You Go Bernadette at some point last year. I think the eye-catching cover drew me in. I read it in the autumn and I realise I’ve not reviewed it until now.
Where’d You Go Bernadette – A Plot Overview
The book revolves around agoraphobic architect and mother, Bernadette Fox. She promises her daughter, Bee Branch, anything she wants if she does well at school. Of course, Bee does brilliantly and wants to go to Antartica. Bernadette Fox is terrified of the idea and subsequently goes missing prior to the trip. Throughout the novel, the writer tries to portray how kooky Bernadette is, and sometimes it is heavy handed. Bernadette is made to become a caricature of herself.
The story is narrated by Bernadette’s daughter but in the beginning much of it is told by a series of emails sent back and forth between mums at Bee’s school about Bernadette. Sometimes I found the emails and letters tiresome. They played into a stereotype. Middle class mums complaining about the state of their neighbour’s garden or parent teacher meetings. Bernadette clearly feels she is different from them and one time ran over the foot of another mum. Throughout the book you sense the constant battle between “quirky” Bernadette and the other mums. I guess people were meant to find Bernadette’s exchanges with the other mums amusing, but I did not find Bernadette so likeable as to think “good for her”. A background theme is Bernadette’s husband, Elgin Branch, and his emotional affair with a colleague at Microsoft, Soo-Lin.
Initially from the plot outline I thought that Bernadette would go missing near the beginning of the novel. Instead happens about three quarters of the way through, and beforehand is just the build-up. It seemed that I had to wade through so much to get to a part that was vaguely interesting.
Where’d You Go Bernadette – Concluding Thoughts
Overall, I think Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple was okay but probably not something I’d read again. I didn’t really relate to any of the characters and the style of storytelling through email and letter exchanges did not really appeal to me. It got a bit better towards the end but the jump in tempo made the story a bit confusing. I think it’d appeal more to people who appreciate quirky characters and do not mind if they’re almost too outlandish. It received great reviews elsewhere so obviously it resonates with a lot of people!
Have you ever read Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple?
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