Bernadette Fox has vanished.
When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces – which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where’d You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter’s love for her mother.
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Chick Lit
Page count: 324
(Quick funny story: after I read how Bernadette had disappeared, my immediate Romanian reaction was: A dispărut ca măgarul în ceață! which literally means She disappeared like the donkey in the fog. Yeah *dubious Romanian piece of wisdom ahem thank you very much*)
Now. Where’d you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is not exactly my type of book, I am not ashamed to admit that I found it boring in some places more than in others and I will not apologise for saying that the writing style was kind of annoying me. But it wasn’t a horrible book, people!
As short as it might seem (a little over 300 pages), it took me a load of days to finish it. The idea of the novel is a clever one, but the writing style it was framed in was a bit off because it drew the attention from the actual serious themes that were being put in the scene. Drug addiction, mental health issues, depression and anxiety mostly, family issues, feminism and so many others were exposed in this novel, but they weren’t quite as obvious as they should’ve been, because switching between the emails and letters and the other types of correspondence is, indeed, an innovation of style, but it is also I bit attention-tiring.
Even though I might sound like I disliked this book so much („…and now, why did you read it if you don’t have nice things to say about it anyway??”), I actually didn’t dislike it. And I am telling you why I kept reading it: Bernadette.
I had some parts in the book where I was 90% sure that Bernadette is me as a mum (the other 10% stand for the fact that Bernadette is me irl in my good days lol). Like I could really relate to her. Her personality is so interestingly beautiful that I could not stop thinking about how cool she is and I would actually love to be mistaken and find out that a real-life Bernadette Fox exists out there for me to meet with her. Although, sometimes she annoyed me, but isn’t it part of her personal charm. Maybe? I don’t know.
Also, another lovable character was Bee Branch, the daughter of Bernadette, who is a perfect-grade child, who actually enjoys school and is into some kind of weird holiday preferences, like going to an Antarctica trip for Christmas. Kind of unexpected. But she’s actually my type of child, because, you know what, I might be into some weird-arse holiday preferences myself, you know, me and my inner child. I wonder how would my parents react if I would’ve had perfect grades through all of my school years just to make them take me to my dream-holiday, an African safari? (Probably unimpressed, but meh).
What I loved more about Bee is how she seems to change personalities once her mother gets „attacked” (by some Seattle gnats apparently) and when she disappears. She’s determined, she’s bold, she’s fierce! The mother-daughter relationship between the two of them is just so nice and comfy. I love the fact that they are warm with each other, understand each other and protect each other. It is a wonderful feeling and I, personally, find it even more wonderful because it kind of reminds me of my relationship with my mummy, whom, I must say, I absolutely adore (❤️).
In rest, all those characters look somehow fake and a tad improbable. Like Elgin, for instance. Why is Elgin Branch so obsessed with the idea that his wife is a loony who must be, by all means, locked away in a loony bin? She is a genius, mate, geniuses are legitimate loonies, you don’t question that, you don’t fix that, you just have to deal with it. People like Bernadette manifest egos bigger than the Empire State, so failure must be an inexistent word in their vocabulary.
Another unreal character is Soo-Lin and, attached to that, her twisted relationship with her boss, Elgin Branch (yes, mate, you are everywhere!). I totally understand that she is a divorcee with two children, but the idea of admiring your boss and his geniality so much that you fall in love with him and start manipulating him in some way because he has a weak character is a bit too much for me. She’s actually not in love with him, but only with the idea of him, of what he does at that big company and the idea of the power that he has. Elgin is not in love with her either. He’s just miserable and broken.
Until the end, things just seem to be as messy as they became after Bernadette disappeared, but then things start to get explained. The fakest gnat of them all, Audrey Griffin, turns out to be actually the key of both Bernadette’s escape and also her return. Indeed, people can change and throughout this book, Audrey did change. More than any other character. In my eyes, she actually gained some depth, some feeling, some empathy. And this makes me happy. 3D-personality people are enjoyable people, who please my integrity thoughts.
All in all, not to worry about, everything locks solidly in a happy ending, hurray for happy endings! Somehow, for me, the ending made me give another look over the whole book, making me re-think some thoughts that I had at the beginning. After all, it was okay-ish (but I wouldn’t try reading it again haha).
AND NOW, let’s see what response would the film to the book!