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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 July 2013
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.
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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.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 19 March 2013
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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 10 December 2015
I wonder if some of the reason that I had problems with this book was that it is very American. It's set in Seattle where apparently Microsoft is based and Bernadette's husband works for them - I have no idea if what she tells us about how they work is true but it all seems a bit bizarre. There are also the parents of the other children at the school which Bernadette's daughter Bee attends who seem to be very corporate in the way that they address things and how they attract new parents - is this real, or a satire. or both ? It is difficult to know from Britain.

The book is told, initially, in a series of letters, reports and especially e-mails between the characters. Bernadette has been a successful, aware winning, architect but is now a recluse living with her husband and daughter in a semi-derelict house and never going out. She is at war with the other mothers, whom she describes as gnats, and she even puts up a placard on her boundary to insult them when they are holding an event. She suspects her husband of having an affair and she is challenged by the fact that her daughter wants to go to Antarctica. In the end Bernadette goes alone after running away from a difficult situation and is declared missing so her family go to try and find her and the book switches to the point of view of Bee.

I really wasn't quite sure what to make of this book. I didn't know if Bernadette's behaviour was supposed to be a satire on how some American women do behave or whether the author thought it was as weird as I did. I had no real frame of reference. I recognised nothing in Bernadette to which I could relate and I, therefore, found her behaviour difficult to understand. I didn't recognise the middle-class lifestyle of Bernadette and her family in Seattle and the expectations that would come with that or the pressures of other to conform.

When I had finished the book I was no wiser. I certainly didn't find it funny as others appear to have done.
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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.
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on 6 August 2012
Stunning debut from Maria Semple. Witty. Beautifully observed. Laugh aloud storyline; reminiscent of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen for knitting together bizarre elements and turning them into a can't-imagine-where-this-is-going-next page turner. I was almost put off by the ringing cover endorsement from Jonathan Franzen, but finally, he and I agree about the literary merit of a specific book! Buy it now and prepare to be hugely entertained.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 April 2014
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.
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Where’d You Go Bernadette is a story that made waves when it first came out, so of course I bought it immediately and then put it on a shelf to be forgotten about. The story seemed fairly interesting to me and was certainly nothing like anything I’d ever read before but it didn’t appeal enough to be read until now. I was in the mood for something a little different so I plucked this book back off the shelf and now that I’ve read it, I seriously regret not getting to it sooner.

It’s the story of Bernadette Fox, a notorious architect who has been out of the game for over a decade. She’s the mother to Bee (real name: Balakrishna) and wife of Microsoft whiz, Elgie Branch, and they live in the town of Seattle. At the beginning of the story, Bee cashes in on a promise made by her parents to give her whatever she wanted as a reward for her outstanding performance at school. She has but one wish – to take a trip to Antarctica with her family.

Both parents agree but Bernadette is less than enthralled on the inside. Being stuck on a boat with a bunch of strangers is her personal idea of hell, but for her daughter, she would do anything. But then Bernadette goes missing. Without explanation and completely untraceable. Bee then sets off on a mission to find her mother. NB. Bernadette doesn’t actually go missing until around half way through the novel so this is mostly the story of the events leading up to her disappearance and then the quest to find her.

It’s been a while since I read a book that has made me chuckle continuously throughout the book (usually whilst in public places). Semple pokes fun at private school parents, life in Seattle and life in general. This book was much more humorous that I thought it would be and it made for a really uplifting and positive story. There are some twists and turns along the way, not just in the story of Bernadette’s disappearance but also some subplots, which keeps this story exciting and you’re never sure what crazy event is going to happen next.

This book is written in one of the most interesting and unexpected formats I’ve ever seen. It’s a mixture of letters and emails between various different characters, as well as the personal account of Bee. It’s a bit all over the place and it shouldn’t work, it just shouldn’t – but somehow it does. It may sound like one of the most unorganised way to structure a story but I wasn’t confused for a second. Each little snippet follows on from the last and it makes it very easy for you to piece the wider story together in your head.

One thing that I really loved about this book, was the absolute spot-on description of someone with an anxiety disorder. Bernadette is a little cooky, it’s partly her nature as a creative genius, and partly the fact that she suffers from anxiety. Whilst not all people with an anxiety disorder will resort to hiring a virtual assistant in Delhi to avoid interacting with people, it’s certainly something I can imagine a lot of people wishing they could do. Her problems are not treated as insignificant and they are certainly not something to be ignored. Bernadette obviously needs professional help, but she is still a fantastic mother, wife and architect, it’s just that her brain is wired a little differently.

All in all, Where’d You Go Bernadette is a quirky novel that is sure to be loved by all. It is fresh and funny, offering a satire on the lives of private school mums, an account of someone with an anxiety disorder, and a heartwarming family tale. This book is completely ridiculous and yet it also makes complete sense.
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on 12 April 2016
An unusual style that took me right into the mind of Bee and Bernadette and their wacky world, and carried me along all the way to discover Bernadette's fate..... And so Bee's fate too. Eccentric characters who live out experiences of alienation and survival that are common to us all. And a satisfactory happy ending! You won't be disappointed!
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