Friday, April 8, 2016

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Today I'm reviewing Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I listened to the audiobook version of this satirical fiction novel.


Where'd You Go, Bernadette? focuses on Bernadette Fox, a once-renowned architect who suffers from extreme anxiety and agoraphobia. She hired a virtual assistant from India to complete her basic chores to avoid communicating with others. Bernadette's 15-year-old daughter, Bee, excels in school. Her husband, Elgie, works as a top Microsoft executive, and he's practically married to his job.

After Bee finishes the school year with perfect grades, Bernadette and Elgie promise to take her on a family vacation to Antarctica. But the upcoming trip makes Bernadette's anxiety worse and, following a series of events, she disappears. But where did she go?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is told through a series of letters, emails,  FBI documents, and memos pieced together to form a story. Some narration by Bee is woven through the documents in order to clarify the storyline.


I didn't know what to expect when I started listening to Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I bought the audiobook on a whim because I remembered seeing the eye-catching cover everywhere a few years back. I was excited to learn that the author, Maria Semple, wrote the popular TV show Arrested Development. 

At first, I didn't like the epistolary format of the book The array of documents confused me, and I had a hard time figuring out the plot. I think listening to the audiobook made the confusion worse, since I couldn't go back to reference previous emails and memos. Once I figured out the system, though, I started to really enjoy the unique set-up. I've never read in a novel in an epistolary format before. I bet writing this way is extremely tough,  but Maria Semple pulled it off flawlessly.

As for the characters, they were so strange that you couldn't help but love them. Bernadette is hilarious, troubled, mysterious, and eccentric all at once.  Elgie's character is delightfully odd as well – imagine a tech whiz with an off-the-charts IQ and a wildly popular TED Talk who walks around the office with no shoes. Bee is a mix of both her parents. She's clever and sassy, but also incredibly smart.

At its core, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is supposed to be a humorous satire about Seattle and its wealthy elite. Semple pokes fun at everything from private school parents to five-way intersections. But, honestly, I didn't laugh out loud while reading this book. Maybe I didn't understand the humor because I never visited Seattle, or maybe I don't connect to satire as well as other people.

Nevertheless I enjoyed the novel for what its worth. I especially couldn't get enough of the Antartica plot line – I mean, what other book takes place partly in Antarctica?

The Audiobook Experience:

The narrator of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Kathleen Wilhoite, nailed the gig. She switched between character voices flawlessly, and her voice held the perfect amount of emotional infliction. I would've enjoyed the book less with another narrator.

Rating: 4/5

I recommend this book for an easy, entertaining read – as long as you don't pick it up solely for the satire. I'd say the target audience is women in their 20s and older.

Photo from Amazon