Bernadette Fox is something of an enigma. When an enigma becomes wrapped in a mystery, Bee, Bernadette’s precocious fifteen year-old daughter, becomes determined to finally understand her mother. Taking the form of a series of correspondence, Bee literally writes the book on Bernadette. By collecting letters, newspapers articles, emails – everything connected to her mother, Bee gives us a unique and thorough insight into the life of her extraordinary mother.
Bernadette was once the eco wunderkind of the architectural world but she retreated into obscurity following a tragedy. Adrift in the world of SUVs and competitive parenting in suburban Seattle, she finds herself at odds with those around her who are extremely hostile to her ‘alternative’ ways. After promising Bee to take her on a cruise in Antarctica, Bernadette quickly becomes more and more anxious and desperate to hide herself away without disappointing her daughter. She resorts to extreme (and to the outside – unhinged) measures resulting in her going missing with Bee on her trail.
Where’d you go, Bernadette? is a pleasure to read. Semple has created a rich story around Bernadette, filled with humorous characters. My personal favourite relationship is that between Audrey Griffin and Soo-Lin Lee-Segal, two mothers with children at the same school as Bee who are easily scandalised by Bernadette’s behaviour and like nothing more than indulging in a good email based gossip. This relationship is like something straight out of Desperate Housewives, with Soo-Lin an active member of a ridiculous sounding support group – Victims Against Victimhood - and Audrey constantly on the verge of hysteria. This is a key strength to the novel. Semple manages to develop the supporting cast enough for them to actually add to the main plot, not distract from it, something that many other writers seem to struggle with.
My one niggle is with a small part of the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything but there is a transgression which seems too easily forgiven. This didn’t seem to ring true to the characters personality. However, this wasn’t enough to ruin the book for me.
I really highly recommend this book. It is a quirky, funny, but ultimately touching tale of a truly special mother-daughter relationship. Maria Semple used to write for the sitcom Arrested Development and it shows. Where’d you go, Bernadette is a fantastically entertaining story with great characters and a delightfully tongue-in-cheek tone.
This post was written by guest reviewer Ali - find her blog AlleyHope here