Where’d You Go, Bernadette

By Maria Semple

Book Blurb

A compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

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.  (Blurb is from Goodreads)

My Review

Bernadette Fox had many idiosyncrasies and was too unbelievable to keep my interest.  When she disappeared, leaving her teenaged daughter and husband without knowledge of her whereabouts, I totally disliked her, never mind that she had tried and failed.  She should have done better.

I know this book has had a lot of rave reviews, but it just fell short for me.  I couldn’t abide Bee’s mother and father raising a child in the mess of the house they called home.  Plants coming up through the floors, mold in abundance, structural issues are unacceptable for a family who had the know-how and the money to do something about it.  Bernadette should have pulled herself together and used her education and resources to correct the major issues.  Elgie, her husband, should have put his foot down instead of escaping by working late and pretty much being an absent parent.  I had many more issues with this book.

On the positive side, I loved Bee.  She did her best in her circumstances, generally more adult than either of her parents.  Then there was Audrey.  At first, I disliked her, but she showed her true colors in the end and they were beautiful.  She saw her own faults for what they were and owned up to them.

If the author intended this book for a younger audience, perhaps 40’s and younger, she probably hit her mark.  My book club read Where’d You Go, Bernadette and all of the ladies agreed it is not meant for the older age group.

This honest review reflects my own thoughts and feelings about the book.

About the Author

Maria Semple is the author of the novels Today Will Be Different (2016), Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012) and This One is Mine (2008), all published by Little, Brown and Co.  Before writing fiction, she wrote for the TV shows  90210, Mad About You, Arrested Development and others.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, an international bestseller, has been translated into 30 languages.  It spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and made over a dozen year-end best lists.  It was short-listed for the Women’s Prize and received the Alex Award from the American Library Association.  It’s currently being made into a film starring Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig and Billy Crudup.  Richard Linklater writes and directs.  The movie is slated to open in 2018.  Today Will Be Different was an instant international bestseller and was featured on the cover of the New York Times book review.  It, too, made over a dozen year-end best lists.  It’s currently in development with Annapurna pictures as a limited TV series with Maria writing and executive producing.

Maria loves to teach.  She’s taught her popular writing workshop at Hugo House and the Cloud Room in Seattle, the Aspen Writers Conference, and Wordstock in Portland.

Maria spent her early years traveling around Europe with her bohemian parents, but that ended abruptly when her father, Lorenzo Semple, Jr., finished a pilot for Batman while living in Torremolinos, Spain. He airmailed it in, they shot it, and the family moved to LA.  After the Batman TV series and feature, Lorenzo went on to write a bunch of movies. Once he was established, the family moved to Aspen, Colorado.  Maria attended boarding school at Choate Rosemary and college at Barnard, where she majored in English.  She moved to LA shortly after graduating Barnard and wrote screenplays which never got made, and TV shows which did.   In 2008 Maria, George Meyer and their little daughter moved to Seattle just because. It was a difficult adjustment for Maria, which became the basis for Where’d You Go, Bernadette. The novel came out in 2012 and became an instant bestseller. (Author Bio from Author’s Website)

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22 thoughts on “Where’d You Go, Bernadette

  1. I heard about this book so was very interested in your review. Its too bad it seemed to miss the mark for you. But not every book we read can be 5 stars so on the bright side you’ll appreciate the next good book you read hopefully more 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Stephanie. I would hate to tell you not to, but I’ve talked to more that didn’t like it and few that did. I have another of her books and I don’t plan to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Honest reviews are the best reviews. I read this book about a year ago. I tried to like it, and partly succeeded. I liked the quirkiness of it. But just as you mention, I didn’t like Bernadette too much and her selfishness. I read the next book Semple wrote – Today Will Be Different – and was disappointed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Pam. When I don’ like a book that is supposed to be wonderful, I always wonder if I missed something. I have THIS ONE IS MINE on my shelf but I don’t know if I’ll read it. It would be a real bummer to read two by the same author and not like either.


  3. I love that you were honest and there is much balance in your review. If we can’t identify and care about the main character, then it’s a struggle to finish reading their story. x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Um… I couldn’t disagree more. I hope you don’t mind, but my review was a bit different, possibly because I was a Seattle transplant like Bernadette. My first day of work in Seattle, someone whispered about a coworker who “dropped the f-bomb”. Since I came out of software and we were dropping the entire f-word without any euphemisms, this struck me as completely hilarious. So of course I adored Maria Semple’s Bernadette for calling Seattle on that one. And really — what’s not to love about this book? For me, anyway, it echoed my own love/hate relationship with Seattle, with mother/daughter relationships, with the passive/aggressive behavior that Seattle has raised to an art form, with the tree-hugging, granola, birkenstocks with socks, & goats culture, and with the overall loving, accepting, and nurturing the place manages to provide despite itself.

    Problems with this book? Well, yes, I did think the whole escape (no spoilers so I won’t say where) was fairly lame. As a mother, I found it difficult that the daughter was abandoned. And I’m not an architect, so I don’t care whether those references are accurate or just the metaphor that I took them to be. But I am smart, and that’s given me the chance to be around people who are at the genius level by any measurement. And what I particularly love about this book is that Semple gets the very brilliant people right. They still screw up, but they use their intelligence to analyze their emotions, revise their hypotheses, and do it right the next time.

    Yep. I love Seattle, and I love “Where’d You Go, Bernadette“. I’m sorry you didn’t have the same experience, but that’s why reviewing is SO important. Readers really deserve a chance to hear from different perspectives.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Someone suggested that you have to be from Seattle to truly enjoy this book. Maybe that’s true or maybe it’s an age thing or maybe it just wasn’t a book for me. I really appreciate your insight, Barb. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I truly struggled with this book, but found it had enough redeeming qualities to give it three stars. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Being from a Seattle suburb, I was attracted to Semple’s 2016 book, Today Will Be Different. It wasn’t my favorite book, but there were many clever, unusual, and funny passages. And she didn’t run away from home. I have no tolerance for mothers who abandon their husbands and children.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I appreciate your honest review. I haven’t read the book, but I think I’d have a hard time liking a character who left her family. If I don’t like the character, I have a hard time sticking with a book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I don’t have to love them right off the bat, but they’d better start showing some redeeming qualities pretty quickly. Bernadette never got there.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I have also wondered why this book is so popular, given the failings of the parents! I think that some of it is the very intriguing structure of the book including the e-mail correspondence and the virtual assistant. There are probably some “inside jokes” especially for residents of Seattle, about encroaching ivy and the use of on-line or virtual assistance (Alexa? Where are my car keys?)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, it sounds like you caught some of the satire. Yes, I thought the e-mail correspondence and the virtual assistant were interesting, but they hardly made the book. Bernadette had just too many failings for me.


  8. I recently listened to the audiobook and, for the most part liked it. It had been highly recommended by a friend and I thought it was going to be YA because it came up in a discussion of other YA titles. Funny you mention that it’s for readers under 40. I’m not sure who the target audience is, not YA even though Bee is a MC. I agree with your assessment of some of the quirkiness of Bernadette being hard to embrace. I thoroughly enjoyed the email correspondence between her and the virtual assistant. I thought the book fell apart when Bernadette went missing.

    Liked by 2 people

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