Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

bernadetteI don’t usually let ads convince me but, alas, this is the case with Where’d You Go, Bernadette?. Seeing the poster every single day in Baker Street Station slowly persuaded me that I had to read it. Thank you, advertisers. This is my suggested (end of) summer read. My suggested read for all year, even.

No synopsis can explain to how great Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is. Bernadette Fox has disappeared during a trip to Antarctica. Said trip was planned by a virtual assistant living in India. Her daughter Bee, a ridiculously bright fifteen-year-old, has to go back to the beginning of her mum’s troubles to figure out where the hell she’s gone.

The book is a collection of emails, letters and other bits of documentation that Bee has put together; the story comes together slowly, with pieces of the puzzle being added in at different times, and sometimes coming from seemingly random characters.

They describe Bernadette’s feud with her neighbors and the parents at Bee’s school, in full Desperate Housewives style, with exterminators and family friends taking part in the drama. In the meantime her husband Elgie’s career at Microsoft is on the edge because of the crisis and Bee is struggling to keep things as normal as possible while her family goes bonkers. But this is not all: Bernadette seems to have had a bright past that slowly turned into an axiety-filled, misanthropic present, which is now coming back to haunt her.

This is an exceptionally quirky novel, with constant changes of direction that turn the plot upside-down. I found myself both laughing out loud and gasping in shock at the twists in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?. I’ve seen it being described as a comedy, but it’s so much more than that. The narration is just irresistibly funny, the caustic descriptions of life in hipster Seattle being the highlight, but there are so many darker layers. Bernadette’s frustration with her boring and unsatisfactory life, together with her regrets for abandoning her career, are deadly serious but as brilliantly written and impactful as the comedy surrounding them. I never thought that a book sold to me as satyrical could affect me so deeply.

As I read this, I kept thinking that it was the most absurd piece of fiction I had read in a while, but in reality it’s disconcerting how the story could easily be something that really happened despite being so over the top. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is hilarious, multifaceted and just brilliant. I want more.

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