Bernadette is a quirky, unbalanced, architect who hasn’t worked in a while. Her husband, Elgin, works for Microsoft. They live in Seattle with their wonderful daughter, Bee.
Bee comes home from school with a stellar report card and asks her parents for a trip to Antarctica (a promised reward for good grades). Bernadette disappears shortly before the trip. This leaves her family wondering: “Where’d you go, Bernadette?”
I am aware that this book has been made into a movie, but I haven’t watched it yet. Everything I put into this book review is from what I read.
The thing I liked the most about this book is the format that the story was presented in. Almost everything is a letter, note, email, or other type of information written by one of the characters and sent to another. The rest comes to the reader from the viewpoint of Bee.
My best guess is that there may be other books written this way. But, this one felt unique because it included such a wide variety of things that the reader gets to take a look it. The reader learns about the various characters – their personalities, motivations, desires – by “snooping” on things they wrote that were intended to be private.
Another advantage of using this technique of storytelling is that the reader never had to guess which character’s head they were in, or who was speaking. Just look at the bottom of the note, where someone signed their name!
The reader isn’t the only one reading things they weren’t meant to see. As the book goes on, it is revealed that the little pieces of writing that connect to either Bernadette or Elgin are a collection that Bee is pouring over. She wants to try and solve the mystery of where her mother went, in the hopes of finding her.
Without giving away too much of the story, I can say that part of it is about Bernadette’s past as an architect. She was brilliant, and had an eclectic style that often incorporated salvaged pieces. But then, something happened that she never quite got over.
Elgin is described as a “guru” at Microsoft. He’s a bit distant, and tends to focus a lot on his work. As such, he comes across as either oblivious or simply uninterested in socializing with coworkers. Put this together with Bernadette’s agoraphobia, and it kind of explains why the two of them have become disconnected from each other.
There is a hysterically funny scene involving a mudslide (and I know that sounds terrible). No one is physically harmed, but there is plenty of property damage. It is the culmination of a “fight” between Bernadette and a character that I found to be unlikable. I believe the reader is supposed to have that reaction to that specific character.
There are beautiful descriptions of Antarctica, as seen from a cruise ship. Maria Semple paints a vivid picture, and I felt like I could “see” the different colors of the snow, ice, and sky as I read through that part of the book. As I already mentions, I have not watched the movie that was based on this book. I cannot help but wonder what the visuals in the movie are like.
In many ways, this book is about characters who are too wrapped up in themselves to properly form relationships with others. They all have their own reasons for being like that. There is an underlying theme of broken trust and an attempt to repair it.
By the end of the book, the mystery of where Bernadette went, and why she went there, is revealed. I found it to be a satisfying ending. The book is funny, and strange, and is has the most delightful way of giving the reader little pieces of the mystery of Bernadette’s disappearance to stitch together.
Some of the characters grow, and in doing so, are able to see where they have made mistakes. It leaves the reader with the reassurance that, despite what happened, relationships can sometimes be repaired if everyone involved chooses to work on them.
Where’s You Go, Bernadette – by Maria Semple is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.
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