Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple


“The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, “What’s most important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.”

This very charming novel was short-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It didn’t win (the prize was awarded to A.M. Homes last week) and I don’t think it should have, but it is entertaining, quirky and wonderfully funny.

Using an epistolary format, Where’d You Go, Bernadette tells the story of the crack-up and disappearance of Bernadette Fox. She’s a middle-aged former architect who lives in a dilapidated Victorian in Seattle with her husband and teenage daughter, Bee. Bernadette is prickly, opinionated, anti-social and sarcastically funny about her neighbors and the denizens of Seattle. When a series of missteps and really bad decisions threaten her marriage and her very sanity she leaves without a trace. The documents that make up the novel – letters, emails, official school and FBI correspondence – are assembled by her daughter, Bee, to help her understand why her mom left and maybe how she can be found.

I raced through this novel in a couple of days (something I rarely do) because it is compelling and humorous. Reading about the events that lead up to Bernadette’s disappearance had me laughing and snickering with every page. Bernadette says the things we all think and doesn’t give a hoot what anyone thinks about her. She adores her family, but her stifled creativity drives her to frustration with the world and her community. She is a great character and the best drawn of anyone in the book so when she disappears it’s a bit of a let down. I wanted more Bernadette!

Filled with a satirical edge and a tone that mocks hipster culture, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a great contemporary novel about creativity, forgiveness and authenticity. If you are looking for a quick, funny summer read I sincerely recommend it.

Do you like epistolary novels?