on 30 April 2013
It's been impossible to live in Seattle and not hear and read people gushing about this novel so I thought I'd see for myself what the fuss is all about. They weren't wrong - the novel is delightful. Semple's writing is fresh, fast-paced and funny and you quickly grow to love (or loathe) all the characters and it's practically impossible to put the book down.
on 30 January 2014
Bernadette Fox has disappeared. Everyone assumes she is dead, or gone for good. But her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee, is determined to do everything she can to find her.
Over an eclectic collection of notes, letters, private emails, articles, blog posts and reports, we gradually gain a unique insight into all of the characters, their motivations and their emotions. These are interspersed with commentary from Bee, as she attempts to piece everything together. These all come together to form a bigger picture of the string of events that took place in the run-up to Bernadette’s disappearance - and to help us, and Bee, solve the mystery as to where she is now.
The format of the book is really interesting. It’s quite hard to describe the plot for this exact reason. It didn't feel as if I was reading a story, instead, it felt like I was putting together a case and a narrative from the raw material. Only in this case, the raw material is incredibly witty and expertly crafted to give away just the right information at any given point in time. Each character has their own voice, and this voice is real, rounded and completely convincing. I think one of the real skills on display here is the ability is to flit from character to character, switching between different perspectives from page to page.
The overall narrator, Bee, is strong willed, independent and funny, and her mother is wonderfully eccentric and entertaining. I wanted to know them. The story does veer into the ridiculous at some points, but this only adds to the overall charm of the book and it somehow manages to also stay believable. It’s been a while since I enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
Where'd You Go Bernadette reminds me of a lemon meringue pie. The top layer is a light and frothy confection of emails, faxes, news articles, letters and reports revolving around the disappearance of Bernadette Fox. Bernadette was the most promising female architect of her generation. Now a home-bod and borderline agoraphobic, she is the tart lemony middle layer, throwing out caustic criticism of her provincial Seattle neighbours, local drivers and enraging all the other school 'moms'. She's a wonderful creation. At the base is a crisp satire on the American dream. Maria Semple's passages about creativity in architecture and corporate life at Microsoft are particularly enlightening.
A deceptively easy yet multi-layered read - and a highly entertaining one.
on 7 October 2013
I was really looking forward to a good 'laugh out loud' book and the extensive reviews for Maria Semple's novel Where'd You Go Bernadette assured me that this was what lay in store. Frankly, I think that's what ruined it for me. As an avid fan of Arrested Development, my expectations were high, so this story fell a little flat for me.
I enjoyed the epistolary format, which gives the reader an insight into each of the character's take on the story, but about half way through the book, I no longer cared where Bernadette had gone! And I think that was a big part of the problem - the characters weren't very engaging and the story, while having a good premise, sort of dwindled. One thing I did enjoy was Semple's ability to write with great sarcasm and wit (not laugh out loud humour, but subtle one-liners) however all of this sharp wit that held so much potential at the beginning was cancelled out by the HEA ending.
As a reader, I constantly felt as though I was on the outside of a private joke - all of the insider quips about Microsoft and Seattle didn't translate very well. All-in-all it was an okay read, but it was hard to warm to the characters and the over-hype definitely killed it for me.
Really enjoyed this. Loved the style, story and Bernadette.
Bee is 15, and she adores her mum. Her mum Bernadette is a tour de force - strong, opinionated, intelligent, not afraid to be disliked.
Until one day she disappears.
Bee and her father must go in search of their missing wife/mum, almost to the ends of the earth. This sounds serious, but it's a very funny book. The school and neighbour scenes are almost hilarious in their everyday nit-picking annoyance, with Bernadette's reactions admirable yet scary.
It was a surprise for me to see this in the longlist (and then shortlist) for the 2013 Women's Prize as, though I enjoyed it, I didn't think it would stand up with the company one expects to see in this longlist. It's enjoyable but still on the light side.
I thought Bee was the weak link in the book, I couldn't see the intelligence for which she was so highly praised coming out in the character (not like the YA narrators in John Green's books for example) - she's just an everyday teenager.
Really flew through this. Nice sense of humour - will use the 'gnat' idea! For a reading group, parenting responsibilities and social behaviour, among others are topics that could be discussed.
Bernadette is an acclaimed architect who hasn't worked for 20 years. She lives in Seattle with her husband, a high flying Microsoft exec and her fifteen year old daughter, Bee. Bernadette is a devoted mother but also reclusive, somewhat eccentric and not afraid to be disliked. In fact she almost relishes confrontations.
I really enjoyed this book. It's funny and extremely clever. It's pieced together from a series of emails, school notes, faxes, magazine articles, police reports, medical reports and narration from Bee. It weaves in disparate strands such as mummy wars, FBI investigations, TED talks, Penguin behaviour and the Russian Mafia. Essentially it's just a fun ride that makes fast and very entertaining reading.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is the second novel by American author and TV writer, Maria Semple. When Bernadette Fox disappears two days before Christmas and a scheduled family trip to Antarctica, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee is determined to track her down. She is sure that her dad, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch, knows more than he’s letting on. And she’s convinced that the shouting match with another school-mom, Audrey Griffiths, was the trigger for the disappearance. Bee’s narration of events is interspersed with emails, notes, a school report, letters, bills, blog posts, announcements, journal articles, a poem, an audio transcript and several faxes, each in a different font and format, and all of which fill in the background facts on incidents and characters. Thus the reader learns about Bernadette’s decline from celebrated young architect to socially anxious semi-recluse, Bee’s precarious early childhood and Elgin’s rise to MS fame, as well as what led to Bernadette’s flight and why the FBI got involved. Semple’s characters develop, and not always in an expected manner: one surprisingly discovers a conscience; another disappointingly gives in to temptation; another metamorphoses, perhaps predictably, from small and benign to large and threatening. They are characters that are familiar from everyday life: the fawning admin, the venomous school mom, the hard-working father, the text-book psychiatrist, the excruciatingly enthusiastic fund-raiser. As Bee trails her mom to the ends of the earth, the full gamut of reactions to loss is depicted. This is a hilarious book that nonetheless touches on some topical issues including work/life balance, trust, identity theft, post-traumatic stress and the best way to remove blackberry bushes. Readers may find some parts bring a lump to the throat, but will spend most of this clever novel laughing out loud.
on 28 September 2013
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is a real pleasure to read. I particularly love the voice of the young narrator, Bee, the 14-year-old daughter of Bernadette.
The story begins with the shocking fact that Bee's mother, the funny, talented but somewhat volatile Bernadette, is missing. She was last seen just before Christmas, and Bee's father Elgin, a celebrated Microsoft geek, is refusing to speak about his wife or the disappearance. So Bee decides to investigate and begins to chart the events leading up to Bernadette's disappearance through emails, doctor's and police reports written by people who came in contact with Bernadette and could have had a role to play in her disappearance.
What follows is a hilarious, tragic and poignant tale of Bernadette's life. Artistically talented and driven, Bernadette has been going through a personal crisis for some time. Soon after moving to Seattle to support her husband's new glittering career at Microsoft, she realises how different from everyone else she is and feels ostracised in the forever rainy, suburban Seattle. The well-meaning, but small-minded, parents of Bee's school (or Gnats as Bernadette calls them) soon begin to develop a strong resentment against Bee's mother, which turns into an obsessive hatred. The one person who could help Bernadette, Elgin, remains ignorant of Bernadette's unhappiness and she becomes more withdrawn. Elgin doesn't seem to notice that Bernadette hardly ever speaks to anyone, or leaves the house, apart from Bee's school runs, during which she stays within the confines of her car, wearing a dark sun glasses whatever the weather. Or that she spends all of her days inside an Airstream trailer parked in the garden of the family's falling-down house.
When Bee wants the whole family to go on a three week cruise to Antarctica, Bernadette panics. How will she able to leave the house and spend three weeks in the company of complete strangers?
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a brilliantly conceived tale of suburbia, and how the minor setbacks of everyday can turn into major disasters. Telling a story of a 50-year-old woman's personal crisis through the voice of a 14-year-old would have been problematic had it not been for the injections of the emails and reports written by grown-ups. These `real' documents give the story a multi-layered quality. Reading between the lines of emails written from one (female) parent from Bee's school to another (the two Gnats) is particularly enjoyable. It's not what's said, but what's not...(I've read a few of these in my time).
I gave this book five stars, which is is rare, but I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. Take it on a long journey, or on holiday with you, or read it when you've broken your little toe (an every day occurrence).
on 27 July 2013
Would have been 5 stars, but I'm still not sure about the ending! Could well be I'd give it 5 after a second read!
Great characters and easy to empathise with them all, unusual when they're all so different. Bernadette herself is gradually revealed as a complex character....will say no more for fear of spoiling it! Even Seattle, the setting for the novel, develops a persona!
The story is told by various characters, both in dialogue and through e-mails and it's a great way of understanding different views on the same event. Humour, sometimes black, abounds and it all adds up to a fascinating book that was hard to put down.
on 27 October 2014
Really enjoyed this funny and liberating book. Found it also educational and topical but with a twist so never boring. Off the wall characters built up with hilarious descriptions so even felt sympathy for the not so nice characters . Great pace in plot and times when I laughed out loud. It lived up to its recommendation. A good holiday read.