Book Review : Where’d you go, Bernadette – Maria Semple

Book Rating : 3 stars

The voice was quirky, told through Bee’s eyes, and through a series of letters, emails, and the like. I enjoyed the format of this, which I didn’t expect to, and which served to give different POVs without shifting unnecessarily between characters.

What I didn’t like was Berndaette.

She seemed so weak to me, like she was a pale version of her former self. And though the book explores her refinding herself, I didn’t connect to her as much as I thought I would in the beginning. For such a seemingly smart woman, she makes such stupid mistakes. For example, she hires a personal assistant out of India, Manjula, who Bernadette doesn’t research prior, and who ends up being part of some Russian hacking gang. Bernadette also doesn’t work on her home, even though she was a respected architect. She lost her steam in life, and didn’t really seek it out the way I think she should have.

I had a hard time respecting her intelligence.

She made her life about Bee, her daughter, which is understandable especially given that Bee had medical conditions when she was born. But Bee flourished, and still Bernadette seemed given up on life, becoming reserved, curmudgeonly, and contemptuous of others. It’s as if she hated herself so much that her view of others were tainted by that self-loathing.

I was happy to see her taking charge of her life towards the end. But overall, the book was silly and frankly, unrealistic.
From Bernadette’s husband wanting to have her committed, to the FBI getting involved with the Manjula issue, to Bernadette disappearing off into the Antarctic, the overall narrative was unpoetic chaos, and led to me feeling frustrated with it.

Bee was the only likable character, and much more realistic than the others. Her father is unreasonable and insensible, and Bernadette is no better.

Favorite quotes from Where’d you go, Bernadette:

“That’s right,’ she told the girls. ‘You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”

“This is why you must love life: one day you’re offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you’re using the word calve as a verb.” 

“I’m not too good when exposed to people” 

“Life is a stew, and pot is poop.If someone stirred even a teeny-bit of poop in the stew, would you really want to eat it?” 

“People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.” 

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