It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I haven’t been able to put down. Where’d You Go, Bernadette quickly reminded me how truly addictive a novel can be. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. Throughout the story, we see Bernadette through the eyes of her daughter, her fellow parents at school, and admirers of her architectural genius. Captivating from the first page, Maria Semple’s narrative is poignant, hilarious, and completely unforgettable.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is about a young girl named Bee trying to understand her mysterious (and potentially unhinged) mother, Bernadette, and figure out how she vanished one day. From documents sent to her after her mother’s disappearance, Bee puts together a book. Her narrative consists of emails between Bernadette and her virtual assistant from India, detached reports and memos, an online profile of Bernadette’s accomplishments as an architect, a transcript of Bee’s father Elgie’s famed TED Talk, and much more. The inventive form keeps you on your toes because you never know what you’ll be reading next, and each bit was really unique and usually humorous. In addition, the pieces let us see Bernadette, Bee, and Elgie from many different angles, rounding them out nicely.
Not only are the characters well developed; each of them have their own full arcs throughout the story. Of course Bernadette, Bee, and Elgie have big issues to grapple with—namely, the disappearance of the matriarch. The conclusion was, for me, totally satisfying without being trite or overly sentimental. However, it was a secondary character’s arc that I actually found most moving. To create interesting characters that also change in interesting ways is no easy feat, and Semple pulls it off seamlessly.
One of my favorite parts of Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the absurdity. Bernadette is a potentially agoraphobic hermit who enlists the services of an Internet “virtual assistant” from India to take care of her daily chores. There is a massive mudslide that ruins a house hosting a brunch for twenty kindergarteners and their wealthy parents. A trip to Antarctica lies at the center of the novel. Everything that happens seems simultaneously very real and very ridiculous, and this delicate balance is one of the most enticing parts of the story.
All in all, I absolutely loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette. It was a pretty quick and highly original read that will definitely stay with me, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.