Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple | Book Review

January 27th – 28th

I won’t lie, I read this book for a few reasons, the first being that I saw the trailer for the movie. The second, because it contains a trip to Antarctica, which is my dream vacation, and thirdly, because it deals with anxiety and the pressure to create.

I’m incredibly glad that I read this. Bernadette Fox was an architect. In fact, she was a great architect. Her work was considered art, using locally sourced materials for her builds, and doing the whole thing with little to no plan. She was definitely eccentric. She has a daughter named Bee, a husband named Elgie, and they live in a dilapidated house in Seattle. 

The book is told through emails, letters, interviews, documents, and some narration from Bee. The whole thing is an account of why Bernadette left, and where she went, and the story is captivating. It seems like it wouldn’t be. The reasons for leaving on the surface can seem ordinary and somewhat mundane. When you combine that with the mental illness that Bernadette was struggling with, and the lack of support from her husband, I find that it makes for a story that builds pressure slowly until it explodes on the page.

The format helped this. Seeing things from different perspectives kept the whole book from feeling like it was from the point of view of a fourteen year old girl. The emails are from Bernadette to her assistant in India, Elgie to Soo-Lin, a parent at Bee’s school. Soo-Lin to Audrey, another parent, and various psychology professionals, gardeners and other people who were all very involved or tangentially involved in Bernadette’s disappearance.

I found some of the characters very interesting and relatable, mainly Bernadette and Bee, but I found others incredibly frustrating, mainly Soo-Lin and Elgie. Soo-Lin had some redemption towards the end of the story, but even at the very end I found that there were still too many questions left hanging. Without spoiling anything, I felt that there were a number of factors that didn’t have resolutions, or the resolutions were made to be important but ended up being inconsequential. 

I’m interested to see the movie, because I’m not sure how they’re going to take the format into account. My prediction is either that they are able to do it in some clever way, or they completely toss it out the window and make it a non-issue. The latter seems more likely, but the documents themselves are a bit of a plot point.

I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something really quick to read that still has a bit of heart in it. Probably a good beach read, even though it’s the middle of Winter.