Some books are so hyped that when they let me down, I feel something must be wrong with me. Maybe I just didn’t get them? Perhaps my brain is the size of a shriveled raisin? Or was I distracted when reading, which I shouldn’t have been, and what does that say about me as a reader? These thoughts are discomfiting and, frankly, makes me feel a little stupid. I take a lot of time to bounce back and pick up another book when this happens. I don’t want the next one to disappoint as well and that’s a lot of pressure. I hate books that put me in this position and most recently it was ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple that got me all riled up.
I had high hopes, having heard so much about the book. Afterall, it had also been made into a movie starring Cate Blanchett. I searched for a physical copy despite having the e-book in my kindle. I was so sure it was going to be a great read and that I would want to see the spine on my bookshelf. From what I had heard and read, this was a fantastic story about a family trying to understand one another better and the power of a daughter’s undying love for her mother. I even thought I would enjoy the format in which it is written—a hodgepodge of emails, transcripts, invoices, school memos and even FBI reports.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the story of Bernadette Fox, a woman in her fifties who lives in Seattle with her husband, Elgin Branch, and their daughter, Bee, a high-school student. Once an acclaimed architect, Bernadette is now a recluse of sorts. She spends most of her time at home, coming out only to drop Bee off and pick her up from school. She’s not involved in any school activities like the other parents and is actually contemptuous of the ones who do. Then when Bee asks for a family trip to Antarctica for scoring perfect grades, Bernadette throws herself into the preparation only to disappear days before departure. Everyone thinks Bernadette broke under pressure but Bee is convinced there is more to it than meets the eye.
My problem with the story is that much of it is just about Bernadette being on the brink of a meltdown and how the town folks don’t like her much. It goes nowhere for more than half of the book—just pointlessly moving about in circles trying to establish a point that could have been made in a few chapters. It got a bit too much after a while. The emails and invoices felt gossipy. Semple was a television writer for 15 years and it’s evident that she still thinks like one. You had to piece together a story with the help of the various correspondences and, while that would have made for a fun read, Semple’s choppy narrative makes you lose interest pretty fast.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Pages: 324, Paperback