Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, Review
During Month Two of the Read the World Challenge, we are reading a books set in Antarctica, so I read Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. The book is quite funny, and I had a good laugh, but only about a third of the book is set in Antarctica. Most of the story takes place in Seattle, Washington. I didn’t take very detailed notes while reading because it was very difficult to take notes when reading this kind of book. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple is written in the form of a series of emails and is narrated by 15-year old Bee Branch. Just to refresh your memory, here are the requirements for Month Two of the Read the World Challenge.
This month we are visiting Antarctica. Although not many people are known to be born on the continent of Antarctica, many novels have been set there. You can get ideas at Goodreads: Popular Antarctica Books.
- Read a book set in Antarctica.
- Read a collection of comics.
- Read a book that helps you to perform your job better.
- Read a book about current events.
- Read a classic on your bookshelf that you have always wanted to read.”
Related: Read The World Challenge – Join Us
Bee attends a private-Montessori-type-school in Seattle. The parents of the students at Bee’s school detest Bernadette, and they think she is a disgrace. It doesn’t help that the home that the Branch family lives in is an eye sore and in disrepair. Bernadette is opinionated and notorious, and who can blame her, when the people in the community have a holier than thou attitude. For “Christians” many of the women have a sharp tongue, especially Audrey Griffin, who emails Soo-Lin Lee-Segal disparaging Bernadette.
Year ago, her mother, Bernadette Fox, was an up-and-coming architect, with revolutionary ideas on green (not the color – about the environment) architecture. Bernadette was awarded the coveted, Macarthur ‘Genius’ Grant, receiving a cash $500,000 prize. One major event transformed her – someone destroyed her architectural masterpiece – and many might say she stopped living, she became agoraphobic. She allowed one event to nearly destroy her life, which suggests to me that Bernadette is not very resilient. Bee’s father, Elgin Branch is a Microsoft rock star, who adores his wife. Elgin is also considered a technology guru – his TED Talk are among the most watched – and he is an in-demand speaker. He is also the absent-minded professor, whose focus is robotics.
Bernadette’s agoraphobia is severe enough that a virtual assistant, Manjula Kapoor, in India has to take care of her basic needs. She gives the virtual assistant access to a lot of financial and other data, that the reader later learns, is a big mistake. What makes this interesting is that the average person knows you don’t simply hand over personal information because you expect the other party to do the right thing.
Related: Catching the Catfishers by Tyler Cohen Wood – What’s Your Digital Footprint?
Things go awry when Bee gets a perfect grade on her report card and wants to go to Antarctica with her parents. Being an agoraphobic, the thought of going on a cruise to Antarctica is very traumatic for Bernadette. Additionally, it turns out that Bernadette’s virtual assistant is really the Russian Mafia. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center working with Homeland Security gets involved. There are many storylines in
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.
For instance, Soo-Lin Lee-Segal, a gossip, who exchanges lots of emails with Audrey, is now Elgin Branch’s assistant. While working with him, she gets to see who the man is. Now she wants him for herself. She helps to turn Elgin against Bernadette. Not really paying attention to what is going on at home, he finally sees his wife’s erratic behavior and decides to commit her for treatment. Before that happens, Bernadette Fox disappears. Bee doesn’t believe for one second hat her mother is dead, so she compiles email messages, letters, F.B.I. documents, secret correspondences, which is basis of the novel.
Elgin Branch is vulnerable with all that’s going on, Soo-Lin seduces him to have sex with her, and gets pregnant. She thinks that Elgin, she and her children are going to live as one big happy family, with a baby on the way. Soo-Lin is in complete denial about Elgin’s feelings for her. Elgin buys her a house, but doesn’t move in with her. Elgin doesn’t get a pass for sleeping with Soo-Lin, getting her pregnant. Yes, she is conniving, she seduced him, but he could have said ‘no’ to her. It is a situation where both man and woman is behaving badly.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple is a funny, yet compelling read. The book took me by surprise, because it is so unexpected. There were some big ideas that I reflected on for a while.
Big Ideas from Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
- Open communication is important in all relationships.
- You cannot allow one event to take over your life.
- In the story, they want to change the image of the Galer Steet School to that of Lakeside, Bill Gates’s alma mater. The consultant, Ollie-O, uses the metaphor of Subaru parents vs. Mercedes parents. He wants the image of Galer Street to be such that Mercedes parents will want to send their kids there. I thought, “How can people shift their mindset from Subaru to Mercedes?” What image articulates success in your field? Who are the Mercedes prospects, who can afford to buy your premium products?
- Be wary of the kinds of information that organizations are requesting from you. Do they really need the information? Why do they need it? What are they going to do with your information?
- To succeed in life, you have to be resilient. Bad things happen to everyone.
Please take the conversation to my Facebook page. You can still join the Read the World Challenge – it’s a new kind of reading challenge.
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