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Where'd You Go, Bernadette

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Humor (2012)
*Soon to be a major motion picture starring Cate Blanchett*
A whip-smart, hysterical dramedy about a family in crisis after the disappearance of its brilliant, misanthropic matriarch.
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle--and people in general--has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

326 pages, Paperback

First published August 14, 2012

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About the author

Maria Semple

8 books4,468 followers
Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles, where she also wrote for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen.

Semple was born in Santa Monica, California. Her family moved to Spain soon after she was born. There her father, the screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr., wrote the pilot for the television series Batman. The family moved to Los Angeles and then to Aspen, Colorado. Semple attended boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall, then received a BA in English from Barnard College in 1986.

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150,084 (27%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 47,100 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews154k followers
July 19, 2021

People like you must create. If you don't create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.
Oh. My. Gawd. I love this so much.

Bee Branch, genius daughter of the infamously famous Bernadette Fox, has a puzzle to solve - where in the world is her mother?

Before her mother went missing, Bee's parents made the dubious promise of buying her whatever she wanted IF she got perfect grades...which she did and she cashed that in for a trip to Antarctica.

And with the help of an online Indian personal assistant, Bernadette begins planning...and planning...and planning...and quickly realizes that perhaps, it may have been a bit of a mistake to make such a rash promise.
One of the main reasons I don't like leaving the house is because I might find myself face to face with a Canadian.
Meanwhile the pressures mount from all sides until suddenly *poof* Bernadette disappears.

It's up to Bee to find her - and she is not about to back down.
Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I'm about to kick the shit out of life.
In short - abso-freaking-lutely hilarious.

I was laughing to myself almost every chapter - Semple combined just the right amount of hilarity and heartwarming hi-jinks.

Bernadette has such an amazing take on life - she was sassy and witty every single moment she was on the page.
'That's right,' she told the girls. 'You are bored. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it's boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it's on you to make life interesting, the better off you'll be.'
My favorite part? The ongoing battle with Audrey - the snooty next door neighbor.

The petty squabbling and the exponentially increasing responses made my jaw drop - especially when the kindergartners got PTSD from billboard incident.

This is one that needs to be read to be fully appreciated - I am absolutely in love.

The Finer Books Club 2018 Reading Challenge - A book you see a stranger reading in public

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Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 65 books231k followers
March 31, 2016
Just found this book in my luggage recently, I read it while traveling a while back, and never got around to recording it here. (This happens a lot...)

I'm hesitant to assign a star rating here (more hesitant than usual) Not only did I read this months ago, but the genre isn't one that I spend a lot of time reading.

But where *do* I rank it? I know it didn't anger or disappoint me in any way (I'd remember that) but neither did I feel the need to rush on here and review it, or force it on any of my friends. (I know a book is genuinely good if I feel the need to share it.)

I did enjoy it, and that's saying something, given that it's outside my regular reading habits and I don't think I'm the target audience for the book. It's solidly written, clever and witty in turns, slightly absurdist in its humor, and comes to good resolution.

So.... four stars? Sure. Whatever. Let's call it four. Whatever that means.

If you're the sort of person who only reads fantasy (as I know some of my readers are) be aware this doesn't have any of that in there. Also, female main character here. So if you're one of those dudes who is terrified of catching cooties from a book, look out. There's feelings and shit in this book, and a girl looking for her mother.

Personally, I liked it. If the thought of that makes your nuts retreat protectively up into your body, you might want to think of this as less than four stars. (And possibly consider getting some therapy to work out your unresolved issues.)

If you're someone who enjoys more personal narratives. YA stuff. Or what's typically considered "Chick Lit" (Though I hate that term.) odds are you'll like this more than four stars worth.

Parenthetically yours,


Profile Image for Travis Fortney.
Author 3 books48 followers
February 10, 2017
What we have here is a satirical epistolary novel about a bunch of whiny one percenters in Seattle.

Ms. Semple is sending up Seattle elites, which here seem to be typified by Bernadette's husband Elgie, a granola eating, public transport using, bike riding, Microsoft employee with a genius IQ. She also sets her sights on the students and parents of a Montessori-style preparatory school. I don't feel a particular need to explain what happens, because it's pretty well-traveled stuff.

Where BERNADETTE sets itself apart is the storytelling style. The story here takes the form of a packet of documents that Bernadette's daughter has prepared after Bernadette disappears. These include emails between Elgie's assistant and a disgruntled neighbor, emails between Bernadette and her Indian assistant Manjula, police reports, magazine articles, etc. These documents have a kind of zingy, lighthearted, ironic quality about them, and it makes for an energetic and enjoyable story. Narration between the documents is provided in brief snippets by Bernadette's precocious daughter Bee.

Alas, there are many problems, and the book never lives up to its promise. Semple is trying to have it both ways. Bernadette, for example is a ruthlessly satirized Type A East Coast transplant. We're supposed to find her ridiculous, but we're also expected to fall for her. Semple wants us to believe she's a genius because she won a MacArthur genius grant, even though there's very little else in the way of supporting evidence. She wants us to find Bernadette mysterious and admirable. But I was never really drawn in by Bernadette's positive qualities, or able to find them at all. This wouldn't have been a problem for me if it wasn't so clear that I was supposed to like her.

Also, the title and jacket copy of this book seem to promise that it's about the mysterious disappearance of, and search for, Bernadette. The problem is that Bernadette never really disappears. She leaves briefly, but her reasons for leaving are pretty clear, and it's not hard to guess where she went--the setting of Antarctica, promised by the icy mountains on the cover and tons and tons of buildup throughout, might provide a clue.

But the book suffers the most when the narration switches to Bee full time after the disappearance. This switch is somewhat painstakingly explained, but it felt lazy to me. There had to be a way to keep the form that had been so successful for the first two thirds of the book for the final act. It felt like Semple was trying to write a book that was zany, unique, and inventive, but also perfectly conventional, with all the benefits of both storytelling styles. In my mind, this book depended on the inventiveness of its epistolary style, and abandoning it was disaster.

All in all, worth reading. This is the kind of book that very well could have left me shaking my head and wondering how the author pulled it off, if only she had pulled it off. Ah, well.

I received this in ARC form from the Nervous Breakdown book club, and I hope they dress it up a bit for the hardcover. I think it would be better if the documents appeared in different forms and fonts, if Elgie's handwritten letter appeared handwritten, etc.

I can't close this review without saying that this book's cover is unfortunate. While I did have issues here, this book represents a serious effort, and it deserved a serious cover.

It will be interesting to see what Maria Semple does next.
Profile Image for  Teodora .
288 reviews1,600 followers
February 10, 2023
2/5 ⭐

Full review on my Blog: The Dacian She-Wolf 🐺

(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*).


Now. This 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 until the end: 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.

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).


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.

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 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.

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, the ending made me have another glimpse over the whole book, making me re-think some thoughts that I had at the beginning.

AND NOW, let’s see what response would the film to the book!
Profile Image for Maggie Stiefvater.
Author 65 books167k followers
December 26, 2019
PRO: Made me think about all the time I've spent in Seattle
CON: Made me think about all the time I've spent in Seattle
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,601 reviews1,669 followers
May 21, 2015
Well, let this be a lesson to those who would open their mouths and spew venom into the world. I once wrote very publicly and loudly on this here Goodreads that I could never love a satire -- don't even remember which book I was reviewing*. The point is, this book has made me eat my words. This fucking book, man. I loved it. It's my cheese, my oreo cookie, my soft blanket on a cold winter's night, my let's pack everything up and head out for an adventure because FUCK YEAH WE'RE ALIVE. I'm so glad I randomly picked this book up at my library. Like, last second, I was checking out and there it was, and I just grabbed it. Best last minute decision ever.

*Found it! And oh, of course it was a Waugh.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a modern day epistolary novel, but not like one of those ones you read as a teenager with like whiny emails and diary entries from lovelorn pimple-faces, it's like layers and layers of subtle genius. Bee is fifteen and loves her mother, her eccentric and troubled mother, who one day disappears. The book is a meta-compilation supposedly put together by Bee of emails, articles, and other assorted correspondences that tell the story of Bernadette: what made her who she is, and what led up to her disappearance. The first 75% of the book is just a delightful satire, on the wealthy and privileged, on the self-deluded and spiritually empty -- but what really makes it are the bits of real emotion that are constantly peeking through. This story genuinely made me feel things, and like I mean that it in all caps, FEEL THINGS. Plus, it's just wacky. Maria Semple used to work on Arrested Development, if that gives you some idea of what I mean by 'wacky.'

Now, just to warn you, I'm writing this all high off the ending (which was just fucking lovely), so I might be a bit biased, and you might end up reading it and being like, Ashley, what the fuck? Just keep that in mind. But to put it in frame of reference, I liked this book almost as much as I liked Ready Player One (and I fucking love Ready Player One), but it's a different kind of love.

I don't want to say anymore because I just want you to go read the book. I mean it. GO!

Profile Image for Lormac.
509 reviews63 followers
January 30, 2021
There is a new genre of contemporary fiction in which believability is thrown out the window in favor of wacky plot machinations, but which is not satire because the emotions of the characters are too real. (See also, "This Is Where I Leave You.")

When her daughter was born with a heart condition which gave her skin a blueish hue, Bernadette Fox named her daughter, Balakrishna Branch, because the Indian God, Krishna, is blue and the name means "child Krishna." Wacky, huh?!! (In case you were wondering, Bernadette is not Indian, and she isn't even Hindu.) Bernadette calls all of the other mothers at her daughter's school "gnats" because they are bothersome to her - always wanting her to particpate in classroom activities. Wacky, huh?!! Bernadette spends her grant money buying a girls' reform school in Seattle to renovate as their home and which is in such disrepair that weeds grow up through the floorboards so she has to hire a gardener to weed-whack the dining room. Wacky, huh?!! Oh, and did I mention that she is a genius - MacArthur grant and all?

Bernadette's husband is also wacky!! He doesn't wear shoes when he works!! He asks to be removed from his daughter's school email list because he doesnt have time to read all that nonsense!! He wears headphones so people don't bother him on the Microsoft bus!! Oh, and he is a genius too with the Number 4 most popular TED talk!!!

Semple puts these wacky folks into all sorts of wacky situations - a mud slide during the progressive school's prospective kindergarten parents brunch, a police raid at the Westin hotel, a quest to obtain illegal psychotic medication to avoid seasickness, an FBI sting operation, an escape across the Antarctic Sea in Zodiac boats. There is so much wackiness that it becomes exhausting.

The problem is that Bernadette's daughter, Bee, is a totally believable character. A fifteen-year-old girl who has overcome her health issues, and loves to learn, and loves her wacky parents despite it all, so as a reader, on Bee's behalf, I became outraged when Semple has these parents behave in ways which injure Bee, again and again, through their self-centeredness, their childishness, and their neglect. I don't understand how Semple wants me, the reader, to react, and that is a problem.

Semple writes well - she is clever and has a nice turn of phrase, and I enjoyed parts of this book tremendously, but as a whole, it did not hold together for me at all.

As a final insult, this book ends so suddenly, it gave me whiplash. I was listening to it on CD and I pulled the car over to make sure that somehow I had not lost a disk, despite the fact that the narrator was intoning, "Thank you for listening to...." I could not believe it. I could not believe that the book was over. I have no idea what happened to these characters or how the plot was resolved. I was shocked.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,862 reviews1,897 followers
July 27, 2020
Pearl Ruled

2017 UPDATE If you can even imagine such a thing, Richard Linklater is filming this craptastic insult to the word "chick lit"...in PITTSBURGH!!! No, no one'll notice it's not Seattle. It will be in theaters Mother's Day 2018, which is yet another belt in the chops to women everywhere.

Real Rating: 1.6* of five (p97)

The Publisher Says: Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle--and people in general--has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

My Review: I do not care where this stupid, whining woman went. I want her to stay there and remain anonymous.

Awful. Negative. Condescending to agoraphobics.

It's as noxious as Gone Girl, and cloaked in humor instead of viciousness it still makes me mad. Jonathan Franzen liked it, so did Garth Stein and Kate Atkinson. Note to self: When writers whose work you dislike intensely blurb a book, ignore the hype and avoid it.
Profile Image for Fabian.
940 reviews1,546 followers
August 16, 2020
Simply put: READ THIS!, or you WILL have a supremely LAME life. This I solemnly swear...

Yup, this is a total classic--a brilliant novel that the critics have hailed as impossibly LOL fuhu-nnny.

But I simply must add on to this (and this is why this has been the best novel I've read since "The Art of Fielding"): truth is, it will make you cry. Bawl-like-a-baby cry... over the disappearance of this unique individual. Finding her is the main objective in this crazy mixed-media project.

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" is what astute book worms crave. ABSOLUTE MUST !! !! !! !!

READREADREADREADREADREAD!!!!!!!!! I will never stop recommending Bernadette! It is one of the best novels of the 21 st century.
Profile Image for Paige.
552 reviews121 followers
April 1, 2013
Ugh, this book. You see that one star rating? It earned the single star by being mildly engrossing. I know I usually use the word "engrossing" in a positive way, to convey that a book was compelling and interesting, fascinating and exciting. Here I mean that it was just, somehow, able to hold my attention. Not even interest, really, just attention. Somehow. I don't know how. Well I guess this is how: it was entertaining in a way, and it definitely had a certain readability about it. I'm kind of drawn to reading about other people's drama, and that's basically what this whole thing was--catty people and personal family problems and drama.

I didn't like any of the characters. I liked the IDEA of Bernadette, but not really her when she was interacting with anyone or writing things herself--just the idea of her, when other people were talking about her. Bee was supposed to be this awesome girl, like the one exception to every other female in the book, who are without exception "snobbish," "smell weird," manipulative and "crazy" and back-bitey and unhinged. But apparently the author didn't notice(?) that Bee is way judgmental too.

But that's really only part of the misogyny/sexism written into this book (and written into our culture). Then there's the way this book treats relationships between men & women, the gender essentializing, etc. Also the ableism, the white privilege it's dripping with. It's just a whole mess of yuck.

It gets one star for the readability & the drama. It lost all the other stars because I kind of hated its tone (every person in it uses the same voice, by the way), its content, its underlying assumptions, its message, I could go on...but I've wated enough time on it already. It's too bad that this brain candy/beach trash novel turned so icky for me.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,201 reviews34.9k followers
April 5, 2018
Laugh out loud comedy about a family in crisis. Bernadette is a quirky,opinionated, likable character. Bernadette disappears one day after her 15 year old daughter aces her report card and wants to claim her promised award: a family trip to Antarctica. The only problem is that Bernadette is agoraphobic and uses her assistant in India to run most of her errands.

My best advice: READ THIS BOOK! It's hilarious, funny and a welcome relief to books that seem to be similar to other books. This book is original, well thought out and laugh out loud funny.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,510 reviews31k followers
May 30, 2020
im having a very difficult time reconciling what i thought this story would be and what it actually is.

ive ready many books before where the synopsis had given me inaccurate pre-reading impressions, but im usually able to adapt and change my expectations, so im not sure why i was unable to do it with this one.

its probably because i just didnt care for the story. im not really a fan of the narration and presentation of plot through various letters, emails, documents, etc. i honestly thought the story was kind of all over the place. and i also didnt connect with any of the characters - they didnt seem genuine and their senses of humour just arent compatible with mine.

i guess satire isnt really my thing. oh well.

2 stars
Profile Image for Jaidee .
572 reviews1,071 followers
July 8, 2018
1.5 "whatever~~" stars !!

.Maria Semple is a very clever, clear and concise writer which are all really good attributes....however this book was beyond disappointing.....it was at the upper end of "crap".....two dimensional caricatures behaving so horribly and uncomprehendingly towards each other....each character was more unlikeable than the last not in some interesting and insightful way (the Casual Vacancy comes to mind in its psychological empathic brilliance) but in a way that makes you fear for American culture and the selfishness and narcissism that may be inherent in our upper middle classes.

I want to end by saying "I don't care where the f###ck you went Bernadette and I wished you had stayed there".
Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,014 reviews97 followers
May 16, 2020
*May contain mild spoilers*

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is a book about a family living in Seattle, Washington. Bernadette is wife to Elgin (Elgie), and their Daughter Bee is a young teen just out of middle school.

Before moving to Seattle, Bernadette suffered a catastrophic event in her arcitect career that’s totally changed her; she’s become extremely anti social and tends to hide from everyone; she does what she wants, on her own terms, regardless of what anyone thinks; and now others, including Elgin, are suffering because of it.

Elgin works for Microsoft and is well-respected. Although his relationship with Bernadette used to be wonderful, since her life-changing event in L.A., their marriage is now strained. He’s heavily involved in work and he’s lost patience for her behavior. Eventually, he comes to terms with the fact that Bernadette’s likely suffering from multiple mental disorders and feels it’s time for an intervention.

Their daughter Bee is super smart. Due to a congenital heart condition, Bee’s physically smaller than other teens her age but she’s strong-willed and considers herself normal. She does well in school, gets excellent grades, and maintains a close relationship with her mother Bernadette despite her unorthodox behaviors. There is love and connection between these two even through all the madness. Bee and Bernadette are best friends, because let’s face it: Bernadette makes life fun.

“I can pinpoint that as the single happiest moment of my life, because I realized then that Mom would always have my back. It made me feel giant. I raced back down the concrete ramp, faster than I ever had before, so fast I should have fallen, but I didn’t fall, because Mom was in the world.”

Bee’s parents make a deal with her that if she receives good grades in middle school (for graduation), she can have whatever she wants afterward. Her grades are in, and she’s calling in her reward of choice: a family trip to Antarctica. This about throws Bernadette into straight panic. She’s already struggling with enough challenges and this may be too much for her. How is she going to deal with this?

The majority of this book is epistolary in nature and told in correspondence, whether it be emails, notes, or documents. I was a little unsure of the format at first because it started to feel “busy” to me, but surprisingly, it turned out to be okay; in fact, I don’t think it would’ve been better written any other way. There are interludes told from Bee’s point of view as the protagonist which connects everything together nicely. This made the book feel unique to me and I really did like the author’s writing style.

I had many different emotions reading through this story. Some parts were laugh-out-loud hilarious, and other times certain characters angered me and seemed absurd. The main characters were easy to connect with, while a few others were quite funny. I was actually able to identify with Bernadette and her introverted behavior more than any others; although, her extremes were more difficult, but once you see what she’s experienced in the past you begin to understand her better. Having a daughter with a similar congenital heart condition was something else that connected me to Bernadette and Bee. Also, anyone who’s suffered from anxiety and depression can probably totally relate to Bernadette.

Getting into fights with people makes my heart race. Not getting into fights with people makes my heart race. Even sleeping makes my heart race! I’m lying in bed when the thumping arrives, like a foreign invader. It’s a horrible dark mass, like the monolith in 2001, well-organized but completely unknowable, and it enters my body and releases adrenaline. Like a black hole, it sucks in any benign thoughts that might be scrolling across my brain and attaches visceral panic to them. For instance, during the day I might have mused, Hey, I should pack more fresh fruit in Bee’s lunch. That night, with the arrival of The Thumper, it becomes, I’VE GOT TO PACK MORE FRESH FRUIT IN BEE’S LUNCH!!! I can feel the irrationality and anxiety draining my store of energy like a battery-operated racecar grinding away in the corner. This is the 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. I wake up in a sweat so thorough I sleep with a pitcher of water by the bed or I might die of dehydration.

I asked myself more than once: What is so wrong with Bernadette not wanting to go to Antarctica? Maybe her plan to get out of the trip was crazy, but why should anyone ever be forced to do something they don’t want to; I mean, does that really make them mental? It’s thought-provoking, and this trip to Antarctica had much more importance in the story than I expected. Bernadette is essentially on her own journey and needs to find a way to straighten herself out.

Even though this book is obviously meant to be humerous (satire), there was a serious tone to parts of the book for me. I don’t think this is what the author wanted when writing it, but it’s always a challenge for me to find humor when it comes to people struggling with mental health. People develop mental health problems for many different reasons, and everyone deals with it in their own way, but mental disorders have the power to split a family apart and end lives. I feel like the author did a good job portraying the struggles within this family, how mental disorders affect others, and even the social stigma that often goes comes with it. This is just my opinion though.

With all that said, I didn’t like the ending at all and expected a different outcome, or maybe just more of an outcome. The ending felt rushed and fairly contrived considering the build all the way up to it. Was there really any resolve? I’m not going to spoil it in my review, but I’d love to chat with others about the ending in particular. If it weren’t for the ending going the way it did, this would’ve been a full five-star review for me.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and will read more by this author in the future. I’m yet to see the film, but after connecting with the all the main characters, it seems like the cast couldn’t be better.


You can also read this review @readrantrockandroll.com
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews716 followers
August 9, 2019
People don't go to Antarctica, they're called to Antarctica...
I can't quite make my mind up about this funny/weird/sad book all in one. The beginning of the book made me laugh at almost every page, mainly because of the weird 'mum' and her 'matchless' statements and behavior; it also struck me this story is actually a bit sad. Then the whole correspondence between the ladies Soo-Lin and Audrey Griffin, out of this world funny at times, priceless! The last say 40 pages of the book however I lost my interest a bit, story seems to be at a dead end for me. Still, say close to four stars for this unparalleled witty, loving and funny story with a teary edge to it. About a special strong-minded and witty girl named Bee, her out of bounds mum and the love for each other. Haven't seen any story like this so it's unique and that deserves a good rating! ps I want to go to Antarctica too!
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews871 followers
April 15, 2013
I figure my best hope of getting more readers than the Cubs have victories is to mention straight away Maria Semple’s bona fides as a satirist. So here it is: she wrote for Arrested Development. Her talent for skewering plays out well in book form, too, as it turns out. Bernadette, the protagonist, is creative, whip-smart, and now that her daughter, Bee, is past some pretty serious childhood health issues, able to devote herself almost entirely to snarky send-ups. The targets are primarily from Seattle where they live. Beyond the standard subjects of grunge, rain, coffee and Microsoft (where husband, Elgie, is an engineering superstar), there are also the cliquish and bothersome moms from Bee’s school. Complications arise, though, wouldn’t you know.

Much of the book is back-story told in epistolary form. There are email exchanges between Bernadette and an online personal assistant, notes from Bee’s school, several catty moms opining about Bee’s parents, and various other documents of a plot-spoiling nature. From these we learn that Bee is the most outstanding student in her 8th grade class, Bernadette was an award-winning architect in earlier days, Elgie gave the 4th most popular TED talk ever, they’re planning a family trip to Antarctica to see penguins, and the gnats (as Bernadette refers to the busybody moms from the school) are out of control. The list of problems is a long one, too: Bernadette has lost her professional mojo, Elgie is married to his job, one of the gnats becomes Elgie’s admin, Bernadette has become over-reliant on her personal assistant, and another gnat has brought trumped up charges against Bernadette. Breaking points were reached. Near perfect storm status was achieved.

Bee narrates the story of her mom’s disappearance and the subsequent search. But it’s a disservice to go much deeper into the plot. Instead, I’ll mention the pleasure of the overall tone. For one thing, the social satire was done well. The supporting characters were revealed cleverly, with more than just their stereotypes to define them. It was also nice that we weren’t just told that Bernadette, Elgie and Bee were smart, we got to see the evidence of it as well. Another point in the book’s favor is that it had more than just humor going for it. There were also deeper probes into relationships for us to consider. Special mother-daughter bonds were handled deftly.

I have a friend or two out there (oddly enough, near broad-minded Boston ) who might be tempted to judge a book by its cover, and in this particular case assume “chick lit.” While it does have a female perspective, I personally wouldn’t defile it with such a label. If it’s smart, funny and uplifting, just enjoy it independent of classification, cover and commercial appeal.

It didn’t change my life (my new criterion for five stars), but it did lighten the load for a while. At the same time, there was more ballast than you’d expect from, say, Lucille Bluth, Lindsay and Maeby.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,530 reviews790 followers
November 3, 2022
Shortlisted Women's Prize for Fiction 2013: This TV writer of the likes of Arrested Development and Ellen, produces a masterclass in comedy drama with a highly dysfunctional family of three, dad - a Microsoft superstar, mum Bernadette - a one-time genius architect and daughter Bee… aka.. Balakrishna(!) child prodigy, living in a run-down mansion-like house in Seattle. Bee wants to go to Antarctica, Dad wants to create Microsoft's next big thing and Bernadette is lost and doesn't know what she wants. This book tells the amazing, touching and funny story of this family and their friends, neighbours, colleagues... and enemies. A tremendous piece of work. 9 out of 12

2014 read
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,063 reviews479 followers
July 29, 2022
This book had all of the elements of a great read: funny, insightful, innovative and well written.

I loved the various vehicles the author used to get information out to the reader in an unconventional way. A highly entertaining book with really well drawn characters who will live in your head long after you have turned the last page.

The movie with Cate Blanchett in the role of the mother was amazing, although the movie does depart somewhat from the book. I remember thinking at the time that this would make a great movie, and yes, the incomparable Cate Blanchett portrayed the off the wall mother like nobody else could. Do yourself a favour and read the wonderful, heartwarming book before you watch the excellent movie.

I've tried to read this author's other novels, but so far this is my favourite. It had a bit of everything and the descriptions of Antarctica were enthralling!
Profile Image for Rich.
154 reviews9 followers
December 17, 2012
This book about Seattle "Subaru Parents" describes my life so chillingly accurately that I am now absolved of writing my own book about their Portland-counterparts' bat-shit antics. Favorites: "Suddenly, Audrey Griffin started running toward the car all stiff and out of rhythm. You could just tell she hadn't run in about ten years." -22. "Perhaps because we both went to prep school and Ivy League universities ourselves, we did not fetishize them like other Seattle parents." -43. "Wooowww," Audrey Griffin said, spreading the word up and down like a roller coaster. Her voice was so full of hate and craziness that it pierced my skin." -85. "There's a story that during the filming of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola had a sign on his trailer: 'Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick Two." -113. The book becomes less plausible, more fantastic as it goes, rising in a crescendo of unbelievability -- but it's all benevolent and fun, and you barely notice it and it's easy to go along with it. There's magical-thinking, including the idea of truly terrible human beings finding redemption and owning their misdeeds and apologizing to those they've hurt with lies, slander, and manipulation. But really wonderful in a, "I wish that would actually happen! I wish people didn't just become more of their worst traits as they aged!" Sheesh, what a pessimist I am. I probably need to join VAV -- "Victims Against Victimhood," an awesome critique of the bullshittiness of 12-step groups. A great book.
Profile Image for Luffy.
940 reviews702 followers
August 24, 2017
I was overwhelmed by what transpires in the book. So much happens. Pow. Pow. Relentlessly (for most of the book). There is no breathing space, no lull. The story is so domineering that we are caught unawares when the book ends.

Benadette Fox and her family paint a ludicrous picture of her household. Most of the characters are half mad and Bernadette and her daughter Bee lead the way to Lala Land. Here, more actually, to Antarctica. Hijinks ensues. I do think that Maria Semple was inspired by various authors, and all of these authors are still alive. That's my impression at least.

What a story! I don't think this is a strictly chick lit book. It's a must read one, and I enjoyed it really thoroughly because of the balancing act that the author conjures out of thin air. I had to knock out one star due to the chaotic and unsatisfying last act, but overall this is a book that will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
727 reviews11.6k followers
July 4, 2018
Even on the busiest call nights at work, the phrase that never fails to grab my attention regardless of whatever else I may be doing is, "I hear you like reading. Have you ever read _____?"

That's how I first heard about Where'd You Go, Bernadette. The call night was painfully slow, the wifi was actually working, the Kindle app on my phone was begging for a free sample which turned out to be hilarious, my brain was headed into the 22nd hour of being awake, and the impulse buy predictably happened.

I loved it at first, but the closer I got to the finish line the higher my eyebrows climbed and the deeper the eyeballs rolled. Maybe finishing it after getting enough sleep had something to do with the disappearance of giddy happiness and the emergence of the ambivalent noncommittal shrug at what I just read.

It starts as a clever satire featuring the cream of the crop of Seattle, Washington - a place where Microsoft has its headquarters and where the people do not live up to the standards of haughty and cultured LA transplants.

It's a satire on the privileged world of suburban moms obsessed with the image of their little private schools and the local silly gossip and a satire on the world of Microsoft bubble. Its a satire on the poorly adjusted and not-so-tolerant haughty transplants from the more 'cultured' and 'worldly' places who snigger and judge those around them while relying on the services of an outsourced personal assistant company ($ 0.75 per hour!). It's pieced together from a flurry of emails, letters, post-it notes and tied together by a commentary of a bright teenager in the middle of all the events.

And it's such an easy and fun page-turning read - perfectly suited to a slow sleep-deprived call shift at work.

And yet the satire ends up resembling - too closely! - the world it satirizes, failing to rise beyond the shallow and easy, failing to bite or sting or really make you care. It fails to do more that remain suitably entertaining, fails to keep its focus on anything that even threatens to become at all uncomfortable, and fails to make enough of an impact to care.

It instead remains fluffy and silly and very readable, and giggle-worthy, and ultimately satisfying in the same way Nutella is - strangely addicting but nutrients-poor, and honestly, not contributing much to the (mental) health, and leaving a way-too-sweet aftertaste for hours.

(For a record, I love Nutella.)

(And I, regardless of overall disappointment, still had a great time reading this book.)

(But neither of them can replace nicely cooked Brussels sprouts.)

(Which I also love, for all the right reasons.)
(Especially if you add some cheese sauce.)
(But that's another story.)
June 18, 2019
3.5 stars.

Quirky and unforgettable characters with a unique and captivating storyline.

This novel was a refreshing change of pace from what I have been reading lately. A silly, unpredictable story with eccentric and entertaining characters that had me laughing out loud. I really liked the way the story unfolded through letters, emails, reports and the narrative of Bee, the daughter of the family. Some of the plot overlapped between these points of narration giving a layered look into what was happening which I thought was done very well.

For me, the first half of the book was more intriguing and enjoyable than the second half. My interest was piqued from the start and my curiosity had me flipping the pages as quickly as possible. The second half of the book began to drag in parts and my connection to the storyline lessened. The plot took an unrealistic route (for me) and lost its spark and intrigue. While I still loved the characters and their quirkiness, I wasn’t invested in what was happening to them.

This was a Traveling Friends read for the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge. It was a fun book to read and discuss together!

Thank you to my lovely local library for lending me this book!
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews45.7k followers
October 27, 2018

By which I mean, “This is Illuminae if I liked Illuminae, and also instead of being set in space it was set in the Pacific Northwest, and also instead of descriptions of camera footage and server readings it was emails and flyers and whatnot, and also it was the present day, and also instead of teeming with unnecessary romance and the same plotlines over and over it was actually funny and entertaining.”

Basically the only thing it has in common with Illuminae is the unique/found-document style formatting.

So again, I say: MY ILLUMINAE!!!

I read this book a few years ago, when I was young(er) and stupid(er), and I thought it was meh. A classic Nothing To Write Home About, And Also Why Am I Reading This Because 2015-Me - Which Is To Say, Current Me In This Thought Summary - Only Reads YA And Weird Niche Stuff From The Library, Not Bestselling Chick Lit.


I read this a few years ago and I didn’t much care for it (or not care for it - I had little to no feelings on the subject) and then I reread it recentlyish (not recently enough - I am not good at writing reviews in an amount of time that could be called “human” or “reasonable” or “reflective of any effort at all”) AND I ENJOYED IT IMMENSELY.

Just in time for the absolutely unnecessary movie to come out. Which I will still totally, definitely see.

This book is a ~social satire~, kinda, which basically means that it will be very very funny but you will not like a lot of the characters. Really at any given point I only liked Bernadette and Bee, and even my affections for them were nothing to write home about. Sometimes that can make reading this book grueling.

But mostly it is just overwhelmingly funny and creative and entertaining. Even if I hate reading books in which characters go to Antarctica and it only makes me fathom the sheer degree to which I nevereverever want to go there.

Bottom line: If you really needed someone to tell you to read this massive bestseller from 2012, which is now being adapted into a star-studded Major Motion Picture - consider this someone telling you.



this was so so fun.

review to come

currently-reading update

2015 me: thinks this book is fully meh

2018 me: is incapable of putting this down. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is physically attached to my hands. as if with superglue. currently re-learning how to perform basic tasks with the handicap of a paperback affixed to my palms
Profile Image for Isabel Allende.
Author 177 books33.9k followers
December 23, 2013
Where'd you go Bernardette, by Maria Semple is simple a riot of a
book. I laughed so uncontrollably in the plane that some passengers
complained. A Seattle teenage girl tells the story of how and why her
eccentric mother, who has alienated everybody around her, including
her Microsoft geek of a husband, ends up lost in Antarctica. Not to
miss if you need to get over a bout of depression.
Profile Image for Rebbie.
142 reviews110 followers
February 7, 2017
4 1/2 magnificent stars!!

Another fitting name could be: How Bernadette Got Her Groove Back :p

Bernadette Fox, a wealthy agoraphobe with a teenage daughter and a semi-absentee (emotionally, anyhow) husband, quite literally disappears before taking off on a family trip to Antarctica.

Oh, how fun it is to dislike the witch on wheels (aka the Gnat), Audrey, who then morphs into a slightly-imbalanced but milder version of Bernadette. In my mind, this makes her downright loveable!

The character who is truly infuriating is Soo-Lin, but I will say no more in case you want to read the book. Many readers seem to hate on Bernadette's husband Elgie (and with good reason), but if you're the forgiving type like I am, you'll feel compassion toward his character.

The only issue with this book is that it seems to end abruptly. However, the mark of a great book is that it leaves you wanting more no matter how it ends, so this feeling is entirely forgivable.

If you're looking for a fun, spunky read, then this book will be right up your alley.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,741 followers
October 5, 2020
I have had this one on my radar for quite some time. I listened to the first few chapters with my wife several years ago, but I didn’t finish it. I didn’t give much more thought to it until I saw that a movie version of it was coming out. I figured before I watch the movie, I might as well read the book. So, I chose it for one of my book club’s September 2020 selection.

I was entertained, but it was just okay. It is a bizarre, very quirky story. The format is emails and letters, which I was okay with, but I have seen some complain about. I guess it can be difficult to keep things connected in a coherent steam of thought in this format. While it does improve toward the end with longer sections without breaks, I can easily see how it would be hard to get into in the beginning.

Again, everything about this was quirky. The characters, the story line, the various settings – all so bizarre. It is like Semple wrote the world’s longest Mad Lib and randomly assigned the characters traits, plot points, and locations by pulling them out of a hat. It certainly makes for an interesting and sometimes humorous reading experience, but at times it was a bit disorienting. That, combined with the format of the writing, make for a most unconventional experience.

I also must point out that despite the bizarre and humorous twists and turns there is also a lot of serious content about relationships, mental health, and the daily pressures of life. If you can work your way through the maze, you might find your heart wrenched a little bit as well.

In closing – I am glad I read it and I did enjoy it. Maybe it was the bizarre unconventional-ness of the book, and maybe it wasn’t, but I didn’t really connect to it to the extent I had been hoping . . . the extent that would make me say “YES! I can see why they made this into a movie”. It is worth checking out but be prepared for disorientation.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
August 29, 2019
What happens when the creative urge is stifled, by others, one’s own mishugas, or both?
Phil Stutz, my guy. And when I say my guy, I mean, the guy who gave me the idea for WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. He's the one who told me, after whining on the phone to him for an hour about how much I hated my new city of Seattle, "Maria, you're a writer. Writers must write. If you don't write you'll be a menace to society." - from Semple’s FB pages
Bernadette is anti-social, somewhat agoraphobic. Instead of going out to shop, she has an Indian on-line concierge, Manjula, whom she asks to take care of all sorts of things, adding in to her orders diatribes about diverse things, most particularly the unspeakableness of The Emerald City and of the locals. She refers to them as gnats, seeing them as annoying but not worth the effort of swatting. She has had her name and her husband’s taken off the e-mail list for the private school their daughter attends. The other parents are not amused. Her anti-Seattle rants, however, are hilarious.

Maria Semple - image from her Twitter page

The house in which the family lives, which Bernadette selected, is the former Strait Gate School for Girls, a reform school. About nine thousand square feet of decrepitude, which once-world-famous-architect, Bernadette Fox, has allowed to fester. The roof has a lot in common with Notre Dame after the fire. Confessionals are excellent places in which, say, a dog might get trapped. Sadly, no revelations occur there. (“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I discarded a totally excellent metaphorical opportunity.”) Blackberry vines, which abound on the considerable hilltop property, are doing an excellent job of intruding into the structure, giving some of the floors a nifty wave-like form. Used dishes are left in drawers for the help to find and clean. No Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval here. And if you think the house makes a lovely metaphor for the state of Bernadette’s life, you get an extra bowl of blackberries.

When her unspeakable downhill neighbor, Audrey, demands that she remove the blackberry vines, as they are undermining her retaining wall, Bernadette waves her away with a “fine, whatever,” and agrees to pay for the work, using tech and personnel recommended by said neighbor. It ends badly.

Cate Blanchett is Bernadette - image from Yahoo News

Marriage is not much solace for Bernadette. Hubs, Elgin (aka Elgie) is a top-tier product developer at Microsoft, with a desktop cluttered with patents. He makes a sweet income, loves his work, and loves his wife, but works mad hours and is hardly around. Her primary human connection is Bee, not only her beloved adolescent daughter, but her bff.

The plot gets started when Bee wants to cash in a promise made when she was put into her middle school. If she got straight A’s, or whatever it is they give at that school, she could have anything she wants. Kid got ‘er done, and the ask? Ta-da, a family trip to Antarctica. Just the thing for an agoraphobic mother, but a promise is a promise. Bee won’t accept in substitution the pony she had hoped for several years back. Bernadette supplements her terrors by doing a bit of research and learns that to get to Antarctica one must endure the joys of the aqueous hell known as the Drake Passage (although Dark Passage might be a pretty good fit as well), an oceanic stretch apparently designed on a dare.

Emma Nelson as Bee - image from Film Threat

Speaking of perils to life and limb, Elgin’s new assistant, Soo-Lin, not only has goo-goo eyes for him, but is in league with the chief gnat, Audrey, she of the blackberry removal demand.

As the title of the book suggests, Bernadette, after another insult to her dignity, does a runner. It is not much of a mystery where she went, but there is some concern about whether she has actually survived her absconding.

Kristin Wiig as Audrey

This is an epistolary novel. Everything is told in communications between sundry characters. The wrap-around frame is Bee as narrator putting it all together in sequence, and offering her commentary. The form works quite well, getting us the intel we need to follow the plot progress, and offering back-story looks through believable devices.

I laughed out loud quite a bit for a good chunk of the novel. Bernadette is a very flawed and damaged, but appealing character. Given what we learn, it is understandable that she is through dealing with people, and thus with any opportunity to do what it is she absolutely must do, create. She does keep knitting, though. I know, I know. One could say that she or Elgie should have figuratively shaken her out of this extreme, probably clinical malaise a long time ago, with therapy, an intervention, or whatever methods are thought to work these days to help lost souls get themselves back on track. And I don’t disagree. Very few of us would be able to retreat back into ourselves for such a prolonged stretch without resorting to some form of criminal activity or institutionalization to keep the meals coming. Nevertheless, this is the Bernadette we are presented with, complete with a host of quirks, a scary collection of prescription meds, and epic sleep disorders. It is also the Bernadette who is world-class smart, talented, and professional-level funny when ranting. Whatever is wrong with her, and there is plenty, Bernadette is very engaging.

Billy Crudup as Elgin - image from UPROXX

Bernadette’s ongoing diatribe was the product of Semple’s 2008 move (like Bernadette’s) from LA to Seattle, with her partner, George Meyer, and daughter, Poppy Valentina. I imagine dinnertime repartee to be side-splitting. But it could just be variations on pass the potatoes, and how was your day? Fine.
I always get inspiration from my own life and just from the emotions and the microtransactions of my life. The books of my life are very much snapshots of my person I was at the time. I remember when I was writing Where’d You Go, Bernadette, I really hated Seattle and I was just like trashing Seattle, and I was letting out all this fire about I’m gonna put the hurt on these people who don’t like me. I’ll show them. And it was all just really toxic and horrible. But at the same time I knew it was funny and I was making a comedy. But in the course of writing the book, I started to like Seattle, and I was like, wait, wait. I need to hate you for the purposes of the book. I can hate you later. And so now I love Seattle. – from the BEA interview
It may be that it manifested in the book. I found that the LOL rate declined as one went along.

For The Strait Gate, the family residence, film-makers used a building in Pittsburgh. In fact, much of the film was shot there.

You may want to bring along some extra strong cables for suspending your disbelief on some elements. The FBI puts in an appearance, then disposes of a problem, which seemed rather dubious (not the core of the problem, only its late manifestation) in the first place, off-screen. Seemed very kludgy to me. During Bernadette’s disappearance (which is pared down to almost nothing in the film, but which is of significant duration in the book) an unfortunate event takes place that kills off some of the humor. It seemed unnecessary. (The film dispenses with this pretty much) I suppose one might see it as bringing the early bad behavior back to a reality base. Maybe give the story a bit more serious edge. The family pooch puts in an emergency-generating appearance early on and is then pretty much discarded.

Zoe Chao as Soo-Lin - image from Metro USA

Bottom line is that I enjoyed reading Bernadette, looked forward to my daily encounters, and made (for me) relatively quick work of it. Anything that can make me laugh out loud gets extra points. Which is why I put this at four instead of three stars. The charm of Bernadette and her relationship with her daughter, combined with her uproarious hatred of Seattle (I have my own, different gripes) weighed more than the plot holes and deus ex machina of having enough money to smooth over most material miseries. (Yes, I know it can be argued that Semple is showing that money cannot buy you happiness, and that a less well-off Bernadette might have been forced to face her demons sooner in the absence of such. But as used here, money seemed an easy way to patch over a series of challenges.) So, once your critical faculties are properly adjusted, be prepared to laugh and enjoy.
Anything I write I ask myself: Is it true, is it entertaining? My way of looking at the world is that if it is true, it is funny and it is dark. No matter how dark it is, I just think it is funny. I can’t help it. I’ll see something awful on the street and I’ll come home and say to my boyfriend, “I just saw the funniest thing on the street.” It’s a stance. It’s the way I was born, or the way I was damaged. You pick one. (Laughs.) – from USA interview

Book published – August 14, 2012

Review posted – August 23, 2019

Film released – August 16, 2019

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram and FB pages

-----USA Today - Maria Semple is back with more laughs, and more Seattle - Jocelyn McClurg, USA TODAY Published 8:01 a.m. ET Sept. 4, 2016
----Video from the Book Expo of America (BEA) in Chicago

Items of Interest
-----The building used for Strait Gate is actually inPittsburgh, where much of the film was shot - Historic Harden Place in Munhall a stand-in for 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' film - by Maria Scullo
-----Film Threat - Emma Nelson On Her Debut Role In Where’d You Go, Bernadette? - by Lorry Kikta
----- Drake Passage Sea Sickness
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,700 followers
July 3, 2013
I wasn’t planning to crack the cover of Where’d You Go, Bernadette. In fact, I actively resisted reading 2012’s sleeper hit. It has all the makings of something that would send me searching for that elusive “dislike” button. Social satire: Ugh. Chick lit affect (entirely and unfairly due to cover art): Ugh Ugh. Epistolary format with multiple points-of-view (tricksy, metafiction, “I’m a WRITAH” stuff): Ugh Ugh Ugh. Spoofy, anti-Seattle drivel penned by interloper from Southern California (haven’t you all done enough?): Ugh Ugh Ugh Ugh.

But there it was, on the $1 table at the library sale. What could I lose but a buck?

Okay, so… I totally loved this book. It’s magical. Maria Semple makes me laugh out-Parks-and-Recreation-loud (there’s my obligatory pop culture reference. Maria Semple is a celebrated Hollywood scriptwriter - yes, I know she didn't write for P&R, but that's the one comedy I know- we discovered P&R in Ireland last year and rented several DVDs during the dark hours of life last winter. I haven’t had TV since 1994. My television comedy literacy is stuck someplace between Wings and Murphy Brown. This book tickled the same funny bone as P&R. That's why I bring it up).

The book’s magic is multi-fold. Satire often relies on caricature to reflect life’s absurdities, missing the irony that life is so freaking absurd all by itself, there’s no need for a novel to dump on its characters by making them freaks, as well. Semple gives us real people in real time, setting the horizon slightly a-tilt so your balance is off but you aren’t stumbling like a drunk. She blends the bizarre with moments of grace and clarity that reveal the depth of her characters and her themes. Humor works best when it pokes at our most vulnerable spots and shows us that everyone else has those spots, too.

The narrative is laid out in a series of e-mails, letters, articles, police reports, TED talk transcripts and department memos written by a cast of adult characters, but the primary point-of-view is delivered in traditional third-person. And this voice belongs to thirteen-year-old Bee, the tiny (congenital heart defect) daughter of Microsoft exec Elgin Branch and his wife, Bernadette. Bernadette, around whom this story foams and eddies, is a once-celebrated architect and a now-wiggy recluse. The contrast of correspondence and detached transcript versus a child’s perspective is a brilliant technique: the adults talk at one another, while the purest, most reliable character addresses the reader directly.

Semple’s spoofs are fun-house mirror reflections of layers of upper-middle class American society: oversharing to strangers via the save-face format of e-mail and social media (the exchanges between Bernadette and her $.75/hour personal assistant Manjula, who is based in India, are screamingly funny); the obsession with work and achievement (woe to Microsoft, whose culture is skewered and roasted like a vegan hotdog on a gas grill); dogmatic liberalism –Bee splutters her outrage towards her private school:
“Their class was studying China, and the debate was going to be pro and con Chinese occupation of Tibet. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Galer Street is so ridiculous that is goes beyond PC and turns back in on itself to the point where fourth graders are actually having to debate the advantages of China’s genocide of the Tibetan people, not the mention the equally devastating cultural genocide.

This is one bright kid and one whacked-out progressive school.

And then there is Seattle. I read an interview last year in which Maria Semple admitted this book was her rant on all that drove her batty about “this dreary upper-left corner of the Lower Forty-eight” shortly after she moved here; now that she’s been here awhile, she can’t imagine living anyplace else.

But there is no malice in her observations (okay, maybe just a wee bit toward Microsoft, but we all revile the place and anyway, it’s not in Seattle); instead, the author works her magic yet again, nailing dead on the bull’s eye all that makes Seattle maddening and lovely. Although the social strata she spoofs could exist anywhere in America’s wealthier reaches, the details she provides are so crazy-true I caught myself gasping with an insider’s recognition. Elgin’s “bike-riding, Subaru-driving, Keen-wearing alter ego…”? Umm… guilty. Molly Moon’s Salted Caramel ice cream? Jesus. I dream of the stuff. Cliff Mass Weather Blog? The house goes silent at 9 a.m. every Friday so I can listen to Cliff’ prognostications for the week ahead. I can hear his baritone in every syllable of Semple’s transcript.

The five-way intersections? Oh. I know EXACTLY where the author (and Bernadette) lost her mind on Queen Anne (though no one calls it Queen Anne Hill, just so’s you know). Yes, they lurk everywhere throughout our fair city. The Microsoft Connecter? I know it waited every morning on 45th in Wallingford for the express purpose of pulling out in front of me as I raced to beat the next light. Daniel’s Broiler on Lake Union? I always wondered who ate there. If anyone I know has, they aren’t admitting it. Blackberry bushes, the Westin, rain? Check check check. Bernadatte rants to a former colleague:
“What you’ve heard about the rain: it’s all true. So you’d think it would become part of the fabric, especially among the lifers. But every time it rains, and you have to interact with someone, here’s what they’ll say” “Can you believe the weather?” And you want to say “Actually, I can believe the weather. What I can’t believe is that I’m actually having a conversation about the weather.”

The city, and Bernadette’s reactions to it, are part of the web that bears the weight of Semple’s heavier themes: a lost sense of self, depression, isolation and anxiety. That she can hold it all together with such a deft hand at slapstick comedy without being cruel is yet another form of magic.

The plot twists are genius. For Bernadette is not lost just in a metaphorical sense. Semple takes us on a cruise to Antarctica and the book’s title becomes a call that echoes in the blue glaciers of this frozen continent. Hang on – you might get a little seasick as you try to keep up, but it’s so worth the ride.

Maria Semple has written a crazy-good, original, hilarious, sweet and tender novel about a woman falling apart. I think I saw that woman sitting in the window of Starbucks on the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Boston last winter, laughing to herself. It was raining pretty hard, so I can’t be certain it was she. Maybe it was just my reflection.
Profile Image for Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd).
332 reviews7,309 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
April 17, 2019
Dropping at 65 pages. I think it’s time that I officially decide books about socialites and suburbs are not for me. The characters are all detestable, and even if we’re supposed to find Bernadette charming in her oddities, she is always spewing racist comments to her “personal assistant”, supposedly a woman in India who she pays 75 cents a day. She’s disgusted by homeless people, presumably because she’s upset they interrupt her otherwise privileged Seattle days. There’s nothing here I’m remotely invested in reading about, least of all this title character. And after reading some spoilers about the end of this book I’m glad I made the decision I did.
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9,566 reviews56k followers
September 5, 2021
Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

After her mother's disappearance, 16-year-old Bee Branch gathers correspondence relating to her mother in order to ascertain what has happened to her.

Bee traces the incident back to her perfect report card.

Earlier, Bee's parents had told her she could have anything she wanted if she got a perfect report card for all her years in this school.

Because of this previous promise, Bee convinces her parents, stay at home mother Bernadette, and father Elgin, a genius who works at Microsoft, to take her to Antarctica.

Though Bernadette is mostly housebound she delegates the task of making their arrangements to a personal assistant in India, Manjula.

Because she is housebound, Bernadette has an ongoing feud with some of the mothers at Bee's private school with the main instigator being her neighbor Audrey Griffin.

Audrey accuses Bernadette of running over her foot with her car (which Bernadette does not dispute, though it is untrue).

تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز پنجم ماه سپتامبر سال 2019میلادی

عنوان: کجا رفتی برنادت؟؛ نویسنده: ماریا سمپل؛ مترجم آرزو مقدس؛ تهران، حوض نقره، 1386؛ در 373ص؛ شابک 9786001943560؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

عنوان: کجا رفتی برنادت؟؛ نويسنده: ماریا سمپل: مترجمها: نیلوفر رحمانیان، محمدرضا موسوی؛ تهران، نوای مکتوب، چاپ دوم 1398؛ در 336ص؛ شابک9786009739783؛

داستان «کجا رفتی برنادت» رمانی کمدی که خانم «ماریا سمپل» آن را به سال 2012میلادی بنگاشته‌ اند؛ طرح داستان درباره ی مادر، و معماری به نام «برنادت فاکس»، که دچار هراس از مکانهای باز، و نیز شرح زندگانی آنها پیش از سفر، به جنوبگان است؛ داستان را «بی برنچ» دختر پانزده ساله‌ ی آنها؛ از خلال یک سری اسناد (ایمیل، یادداشت، رونوشت، و غیره) بازگو می‌کند، میان پرده‌هایی نیز گهگاه از سوی خود «بی» افزوده می‌شوند؛ «بی برنچ» پانزده ساله، پس از ناپدید شدن مادر خویش، نوشتارهای مادرش را، گردآوری می‌کند، و درمی‌یابد که چه رویدادی برای او رخ داده‌ است، «بی» رویداد را تا دریافت کارنامه یعالی خویش پی می‌گیرد، پیشتر پدر و مادر «بی» به او گفته بودند، که در صورت داشتن کارنامه ی مناسب، برای تمام سالهای حضورش در مدرسه، می‌تواند هر چیزی را که دلش می‌خواهد، داشته باشد، به این ترتیب «بی» موفق می‌شود مادر خانه‌دارش، و پدر نابغه و مخترع اش که در «مایکروسافت» کار می‌کند را، برای سفر به جنوبگان قانع کند، اگرچه «برنادتِ» پدر هماره در خانه است، اما وظیفه ی ترتیب قرارهای خود را، به یک دستیار به نام «مانژولا»، در کشور «هندوستان» واگذار کرده است؛ و ...؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 13/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
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