Book Reviews

Where’d You Go, Bernadette- Maria Semple


Maria Semple’s brilliant novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette was in the running for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Bernadette Fox is an eccentric former architect (and MacArthur grant winner) who hasn’t created anything in twenty years. Paul Jellineck, a friend from the past, describes her character best: “People like you must create. If you don’t create Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.” (125) We see glimpses of Bernadette’s successful former self which her husband Elgin (Microsoft extraordinaire) clearly prefers. “You’ve gone insane, Bernadette. It’s like aliens came down and replaced you with a replica, but the replica is a drag-queen demented version of you.” (193)

Bernadette’s 15-year-old daughter, Bee (whose full name is Balakrishan) is the only person who truly loves her unconditionally, madness and all. Bernadette relies on Bee who serves as the one bright spot in her otherwise dreary life. She suffers from Agoraphobia, hates their home in Seattle, refers to the mother’s at Bee’s prep school as “gnats,” and utilizes a virtual assistant who resides in India. When Elgin agrees to take Bee to Antarctica, it pushes Bernadette over the edge. How can they expect her to travel to the South Pole when she can barely leave the living room?

In turn, Bernadette vanishes and it’s up to Bee to find her mother, despite the fact that she’s presumed dead. Bee’s description of Antarctica is darkly beautiful: “We’d pass icebergs floating in the middle of the ocean. They were gigantic, with strange formations carved into them. They were so haunting and majestic you could feel your heart break, but really they’re just chunks of ice and they mean nothing.” (259)

I fell in love with Bee and Bernadette because they are characters that I would want to be friends with. In fact, I could see my mother and I taking another cross country road trip with Bee and Bernadette, if only Bernadette would willingly leave the west coast.  If my mother was a reader, I’d definitely recommend this book to her because its a perfect tale for daughters and mothers.










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