Wednesday, March 6, 2013

book review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

The backstory: Although I didn't love Maria Semple's first novel, This One Is Mine, I did love parts of it (my review.) I liked Semple's humor and writing enough to eagerly read her latest novel, Where'd You Go, Berndadette? Update: it was also shortlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction.

The basics: Bernadette Fox is a legend, in good ways and bad, depending on the group. She's an enigmatic world-renowned architect who hasn't worked in years. She's a  object or ire and ridicule to her fellow private school mothers in Seattle. She's something of a curiosity to her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee, and her husband, who works at Microsoft. Bernadette has become agoraphobic and employs a virtual personal assistant from India rather than perform simple tasks herself. When Bee achieves a perfect report card, she asks for her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. When Bernadette disappears, Bee tries to solve the mystery by putting together emails, letters, and other pieces of evidence.

My thoughts: Y'all, Maria Semple has arrived. This novel is a treasure of brilliance, humor, and curiosity. In theory, I'm a huge fan of epistolary novels, but in practice, I'm often disappointed. Semple modernizes and transforms this storytelling method brilliantly. She combines emails with secret messages, invoices, and other odds and ends to create a seamless narrative.

This novel defies conventions in so many ways. At different points in this novel, it can be described as satirical, mysterious, delightfully preposterous, emotionally compelling, and a haunting contemporary family drama. Throughout this novel, however, it is always engaging, enjoyable and thought-provoking. It's a novel I read in less than twenty-four hours. I couldn't wait to finish this journey with (and without) Bernadette, but I also didn't want it to end because it's impossible to know when the next novel this creative, inventive, smart and enjoyable will come along.

The verdict: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? isn't a perfect novel, but it is a perfectly enjoyable one. Semple takes risks big and small, and while almost all of them pay off, a few nagging details kept this novel from being a 5-star read, but it's one I wholeheartedly recommend to just about everyone. Once again, I can't wait to read what Maria Semple writes next.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: August 12, 2012
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Where'd You Go, Bernadette? from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version--grab it while it's only $8.89!)

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13 comments:

  1. I keep reading positive things about this novel. You made it sound fantastic. Great review.

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    1. Thanks, Vasilly! It's a really great book.

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  2. Like Vasilly, I've read so much great stuff about this book. It's just a matter of getting it. Since it's a pricey hardback, I'll likely try the library first.

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    1. Picky, the paperback should be out this year if you can't find it at the library!

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  3. Yay! I bought this one on audio last month, and still haven't had the time to listen. That is what I am going to reach for next, as I am needing some lighter and more energetic reads. It sounds like the perfect book for me, and now I can't wait!!

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    1. Oh, I bet this one would be fun on audio. Enjoy!

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  4. This will likely make my top 5 list for the year end. It was so hilariously funny! I passed my copy onto my best friend and she randomly texts me quotes that have made her laugh. The story gets a little crazy at the end, which kind of prompted my 4 star review, but the witty commentary leading up to that point was too good.
    I'm a huge fan of Arrested Development so it's unlikely that I would not have enjoyed this one. Actually, I didn't even know she was a contributor on the show until after I finished reading. Then it all made sense!

    Glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. I think I definitely enjoyed the ride more than the ending. As I was reading it, I could not put it down. It was feeling like a five-star read, but the ending lacked the wow I felt for so much of the book. Still, I adored it, and I'll often take a book I enjoy more while reading than when I'm done.

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  5. This works surprisingly well on audio--one of my late-2012 favorites--and your response to it is a lot like mine was, starting with the lack of love for THIS ONE IS MINE and straight through to the slightly underwhelming, but not unsatisfying, ending.

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  6. I thought this book was brilliant! I loved how innovative the epistolary style was in this book.

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  7. I started listening to his one on audio and liked how even though it was epistolary it was all different types so it kept me interested... and since I tend to tune out with audios that's good. But then I haven't listened to it in forever so this is a good reminder to get back to it!!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!