Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

P1010197Bernadette Fox is notorious.

To Elgie Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind, she’s his talented, volatile, troubled wife. To fellow mothers at the school gate, she’s a menace. To design experts, she’s a legendary architect. But to 15-year-old Bee, she is quite simply Mum.

Then Bernadette disappears. And Bee’s search for her mother reveals an extraordinary woman trying to find her place in an absurd world.

First published: 2012
Publisher: Phoenix


I picked up Where’d You Go, Bernadette at my local bookstore months ago because I was just so curious. The cover, the title, the blurb… It all suggested something fun, something different, and it sparked my interest. I finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago, and it turns out I was right: this book is so much fun!

It started out a bit differently than I had expected. First of all, the structure is not your straighforward narrative: the story is mainly told through emails, letters, articles, etcetera, with only here and there a few paragraphs of traditional narrative. Besides the structure being a bit different, I was also surprised by the place we enter the story. For some reason I thought Bernadette would already have disappeared, or would disappear within the first few pages, which was not the case. I wondered a few times about the beginning of the story — why take this particular point to start? It felt sort of random (though not in a bad way), but later on all of the pieces fell into place.

Like I said, this book was a lot of fun, and I laughed out loud several times. The satirical and very smart humour was just my cup of tea, and the whole idea of this female genius who is slightly mad and misunderstood really spoke to me. It was funny and witty, but also so profound at times. To me, it was just the right combination. For example, we get to read lots of emails from Bernadette, in which she pours her heart out to a virtual stranger. She tells so many hilarious stories, but then there’s also a passage like the following, which brings such a sense of realness to the story:

I can feel the irrationality and anxiety draining my store of energy like a battery-operated racecar grinding away in the corner. This is energy I will need to get through the next day. But I just lie in bed and watch it burn, and with it any hope for a productive tomorrow. There go the dishes, there goes the grocery store, there goes exercise, there goes bringing in the garbage cans. There goes basic human kindness.

While I had some trouble connecting with the story at times (probably because of its structure), passages like these made me love Where’d You Go, Bernadette. That, and the fact that, although the characters have very real and serious problems, there is always a lot of room for absolute hilarity.

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