Where’d you go, Bernadette: Book Review by Tina
Please welcome on board our special guest reviewer Tina!
Tina lives in the UK and works as a business journalist for the medical technology industry. When she is not reporting on the latest gizmos that keep your ticker ticking, Tina ricochets between a multitude of extracurricular activities to combat the bouts of existential crises that increasingly plague her with age. She enjoys reading books that she wishes she could have written instead of guiltily watching series after series of TV shows on Netflix.
Fifteen-year-old Bee Branch requests as a reward for her perfect grades a family trip to Antarctica, much to the chagrin of her agoraphobic mother, Bernadette Fox.
Nonetheless, Bernadette pushes through her misgivings and sets her “virtual assistant” in India, Manjula, to making preparations for the trip.
Then Bernadette vanishes two days before Christmas without leaving a trace – or so everyone thinks. Bee, exasperated by her father’s stonewalling, is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery by piecing together information from a variety of sources.
Myriad emails between Bernadette and Manjula, between neighbours and the parents of Bee’s classmates, letters, school memos, magazine articles, blog posts, school reports, handwritten notes and even the odd police report – all tied together with Bee’s intermittent and articulate narrative – take the reader through the different events that lead to the fateful day of Bernadette’s disappearance.
They also provide tantalizing and often hilarious insight into the small-town petty-mindedness of the Branches’ Seattle neighbors and the unconventional family life of Bee with her parents, as well as reveal the inner world of the often maniacal but never boring and always razor smart Bernadette Fox.
When I read a book, I often try and guess what’s going to happen next or how the story is going to end before I finish. It’s a purely egotistical exercise (hey, I never said I was perfect) because if I guess right, I can delude myself into thinking that I too can dream up clever plots and perhaps one day unleash my genius onto the world with a best-selling novel.
With “Where’d you go, Bernadette?“, I failed big time – which is what made this book such a delight to read. Maria Semple cleverly puts together the different emails, memos, letters etc to just enlighten the reader enough to keep them engrossed and to advance the plot, without ever giving too much away.
I found myself starting to feel the same urgency Bee felt in her quest to find out exactly what happened to Bernadette, hoping that each new revelation in an ( often very funny) email or memo would lead me closer to solving the mystery.
Moreover, Semple has succeeded in creating comedic characters – one perfect example being the Branches’ blackberry bush-blasting neighbor Audrey – who could have easily been caricatures, but instead have traits that reflect human foibles we can all relate to and thus find ourselves sympathizing with them.
And for those who like closure, I can say the story ending does not disappoint.
The pace of the story is quick but smooth, without ever being choppy nor leaving you confused. Semple’s witty dialogue and the hilarious situations in which some of the story’s characters find themselves is testament to the author’s skill as a writer for off-kilter hit TV comedies like Arrested Development, Mad About You and Ellen.
Check out our Books Reviews.