I mentioned recently on Book Riot that I’m a sucker for epistolary novels. You write a novel in book/journal form and I’m gonna read it. It’s kind of how I cannot resist anything featuring an image of a casette tape on it.
Even if Bernadette Fox’s story weren’t told in emails, articles, and letters gathered together by her teenage daughter after Bernadette disappears, I’d have loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple.
See, Bernadette’s a prickly, snooty, artsy-type who doesn’t play well with others. She loves her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee, and her genius husband, Mircosoft VIP, Elgin. Most everything else annoys the hell out of her, especially the meddling parents at Bee’s neo-Hippie Galer Street School and everything to do with Seattle.
While this doesn’t sound like much fun, Bernadette is hilarious. She’s smart and creative and was an award-winning architect until a mysterious tragedy led her to flee Los Angeles, and most of her life. Before I go on, I have to say reading about Bernadette’s life pre-Seattle was my favorite part of the book. I can’t name any fictional architects, besides Mike Brady, so all this architecture glitz and glamor and work was super fresh and new to me. As a reader, I want more books about fussy, smart, imaginative architects.
Okay, so anyway, as the book opens Bernadette has disappeared. She was supposed to accompany Elgin and Bee on a Christmas cruise to Antarctica, a reward for smartypants Bee. As we know, the trip doesn’t go as planned. We learn about the unravelling of Bernadette’s life through emails she sent to her assistant, and woman in India who Bernadette found on the Interent; emails Elgin sends to his assistant; magazine articles; school newsletters; and emails neighbors sent to each other regarding Bernadette.
The books is super funny, satirical look at parenting, New Age Hippies, Seattle, and creativity. I really loved this one, even when it got a little draggy at the end, and abandoned the epistolary beginning. The weight of this book falls firmly on Bernadette’s shoulders and she carries it admirably. It’s not say that Bee and Elgin are total slouches. They’re all right. They just aren’t Bernadette. In fact, I’m thinking Bernadette is giving ol’ Amy from Gone Girl a run for the money as most-memorable fictional female character of 2012. She’s that great.
Semple had to work some sort of literary magic to pull this one off. Bernadette is a rich, white, privileged woman who has been given every break you can imagine in society and yet she still comes of as wholly sympathetic. Not only can you understand her neuroses, you are sympathetic towards her, and them.
While I really enjoyed the satire and loved Bernadette’s character, what I enjoyed the most about Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was the role creativity plays in Bernadette’s life and how dire things happen when creativity isn’t given a proper outlet.