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Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2012)

by Maria Semple

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,6084581,278 (3.92)449
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle--and people in general--has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.… (more)
  1. 31
    Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (LBV123)
    LBV123: Rifka Brunt's novel similarly traces a complicated family history and the story of a complicated mother with artistic tendencies, and features an interesting and complicated teenaged narrator. While not as openly chasing the laughs as Semple's novel, Tell the Wolves is nonetheless humorous in its depiction of family politics--and deeply touching as it deals with both love and loss.… (more)
  2. 20
    Microserfs by Douglas Coupland (cransell)
    cransell: Two fictional looks at working at Microsoft.
  3. 20
    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Though Sweetness is more of a traditional mystery, it shares with Where'd You Go, Bernadette an endearing, precocious, and entertaining young narrator who pieces together clues from the adult world to solve a mystery. Character interactions are delightfully, humorously depicted.… (more)
  4. 10
    This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes (lizchris)
    lizchris: About the madness of west coast America
  5. 10
    Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (kathleen.morrow)
    kathleen.morrow: Similar sharp, witty style of writing
  6. 00
    Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (sturlington)
  7. 00
    Class Mom by Laurie Gelman (drm19)
    drm19: Both are witty and irreverent explorations of competitive motherhood that propel the story forward with emails and narrative.
  8. 00
    The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Each of these are smart, fast reads that make you read between the lines to find the humor. Great books!
  9. 00
    Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant (JenMDB)
  10. 00
    Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (lycomayflower)
  11. 00
    Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell (kiwiflowa)
  12. 11
    The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (cransell)
    cransell: Both quirky, humorous reads.
  13. 01
    Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (kqueue)
    kqueue: Both have a madcap feel where one situation leads to another and spirals out of control.
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» See also 449 mentions

English (450)  Danish (1)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (453)
Showing 1-5 of 450 (next | show all)
I went back and forth quite a bit while reading this one. There were times that I really enjoyed it and couldn't put it down then times were I was really bored and felt it dragged on. I also really liked Bernadette at times then couldn't stand her at some points. I did like how it was written and how it all came together. I was not a fan of the ending though. I felt there were a lot of things that weren't really addressed and that it ended kind of abruptly. So overall just an ok read for me. ( )
  KeriLynneD | Jul 3, 2020 |
I was a bit underwhelmed, I really loved the first 75% of this book. I loved the eccentric characters, the witty dialogue, and the humorous situations people found themselves in throughout the story. I liked the way the story was told through emails, faxes, letters, memos, etc. But, I thought the story lost it focus towards the end and it seemed rushed. I would have liked more added to the ending. I didn't dislike the book but I wish it had maintained it's quirky creative voices throughout. ( )
  jonathanpapz | Jul 2, 2020 |
Wow. So this book bounced all over the place and my brain still feels fizzy because there was a lot of things going on, but boy did I love this book! I loved Bernadette, Bee, their weird dog Ice Cream, and I loved the emails and letters between two women who I would have throttled if I ever met in real life (Audrey Griffin and Soo-Lin). This book was in parts funny and sad and back to funny again. I picked this because I wanted to know what the upcoming movie starring Cate Blanchett was about. I am definitely glad that I picked this up and it wasn't a very long book so it didn't take me too much time to move this up on my read list.

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" follows mother and wife Bernadette Fox as well as the people who are in her life (her husband Elgie and daughter Bee) as well as an increasing unhinged neighbor (Audrey) and the new admin in her husband's life (Soo-Lin). The book begins when Bernadette's daughter Bee asks to go to Antarctica since her parents promised her whatever she wanted if she got straight As (or in this case all S---FYI school now is weird). Bernadette and her husband agree and we find Bernadette dreading the trip, but still hiring someone who is in India to do the day to day tasks needed for the trip as well as help Bernadette with paying bills, dealing with lawyers, and even in one case making restaurant reservations. You quickly realize that something is not right here and it's a quick road to figuring out what is going on. I do have to say that I loved that my initial impressions of people flip flopped a lot while reading this. Except I started off being irked by Soo-Lin and ended up diskling her.

I can't really say who is the main character in this. We get POVs from Bernadette and Bee. We get comments about Elgin from other characters. We get emails and in one case letters and police report detailing information about other people in this story. Due to that I would say that though Bernadette is the person the book revolves around for the most part, we don't get very in depth with her.

The writing style is hard to pin down in this one because of the various ways that Semple tells this story. I still think my favorite part of this book was the police report. Good grief I laughed. Like a lot. And I thought to myself that the person in question would so be one of those women who would be memed and hashtagged to death nowadays. The flow works very well even though at first I was wondering who the heck everyone was, but you quickly get into the rhythm with this book.

The book takes place in Seattle but we also have Antarctica in play here and I loved reading about it. I went to Seattle last year and loved the place. Initially we have Bernadette hating the place after moving from LA. But in the end she makes peace with the location. I personally loved the views from the water, going out on a boat tour, and even visiting the aquarium and Space Needle. I had a few friends who went to Antarctica years ago to go scuba diving. I am still mad at myself for passing that trip up, but the thought of going into cold water just made me shudder.

The ending made me smile inside though one wonders about what's next for Bernadette. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
To start off, I think it's important to know that the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple, previously wrote for Arrested Development. In Bernadette, she uses the same kind of absurdist humor lens to tell the story of Bernadette Fox, a deeply unhappy wife and mother living in Seattle with her Microsoft-rockstar husband, Elgin Branch, and their daughter, fiercely intelligent and independent Bee. Bee was promised whatever she wanted if she achieved perfect grades at her private school, and she claims as her prize a family trip to Antarctica.

This is a problem for Berndadette, whose anxiety and depression has manifested as intense agoraphobia. In an effort to make her daughter happy, though, she engages an Indian virtual assistant to help her both prepare for, and as the trip grows nearer and her fear of it grows, avoid the trip. Her decompensation, including a feud with the busybody mother of one of Bee's classmates, finally breaks through her husband's workaholic fog and he prepares an intervention to confront her, from which she escapes, prompting Bee's search for her (and the title, of course).

It's a satire of the original tech bubble scene, Seattle, complete with a prep school consultant engaged to attract the "Mercedes parents" to the school, a self-help group called "Victims Against Victimhood", and Elgin's status as a TED talk celebrity. And I know a lot of people who loved this book and found it outrageously funny. But the central family story is where it failed hard for me. I think we're supposed to be giggling at Bernadette's "antics" and her clueless husband's attempts to "deal with" them. But all I saw was a story about a tightly wound woman whose deepening unhappiness with the environment in which she found herself should have long since been noticed by her husband and dealt with as a family. Instead, he's spent years ignoring her worsening problems to bask in workplace glory and develops an inappropriate relationship with his secretary, who he tries to bring to his wife's mental health intervention? What? This is supposed to be funny?

Then again, Arrested Development on paper would probably rub me all wrong, too. After finishing it, I actually found myself wishing I'd seen it as a movie first, because I think the right cast could mine real comedy gold from it. But as it was, I thought it was playing a genuine, understandably developed mental health crisis as being the sufferer's fault, laughing at her rather than with her. I don't think that was the intention, at all, but I couldn't shake that reading. If you like Arrested Development-esque zany humor, you'll probably love this book...I'm honestly the only person I know who didn't. But it wasn't for me and I can't in good faith recommend it. ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
There were multiple attempts at reading this book. I'm glad I finally picked it up and stuck with it! Loved the format. Also love the literal LOL moments. ( )
  amandanan | Jun 6, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 450 (next | show all)
The book stumbles a bit in the middle as it transitions from a scathing anti-Seattle manifesto into a family drama with comic undertones. But once the gears have finished their grinding and the shuddering subsides, Semple eases into her strongest work yet, allowing her characters to change in a way that suits the story, and not just shooting for an easy punch line or a sharply worded barb. In the end, with its big heart set on acceptance, Bernadette feels something like coming home.
added by Nickelini | editthe Stranger, Paul Constant (Aug 12, 2012)
 
The tightly constructed “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is written in many formats — e-mails, letters, F.B.I. documents, correspondence with a psychiatrist and even an emergency-room bill for a run-in between Bernadette and Audrey. Yet these pieces are strung together so wittily that Ms. Semple’s storytelling is always front and center, in sharp focus. You could stop and pay attention to how apt each new format is, how rarely she repeats herself and how imaginatively she unveils every bit of information. But you would have to stop laughing first.
added by ozzer | editNY Times, Janet Maslin (Aug 6, 2012)
 
Semple is a TV comedy writer, and the pleasures of Where'd You Go, Bernadette are the pleasures of the best American TV: plot, wit and heart. (There are places where Semple really wants to be writing dialogue, and stretches the epistolary conceit of the novel to suit.) It's rather refreshing to find a female misunderstood genius at the heart of a book, and a mother-daughter relationship characterised by unadulterated mutual affection. If Bernadette is a monster of ego, Semple suggests, so are most people, when they're being honest. In her spiky but essentially feelgood universe, failure and self-exposure open up a rich seam of comedy, but shame can always be vanquished by love
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Semple, Mariaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Broeder, LindaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chichereau, CarineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
de Vicq, Fearn CutlerDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hayes, KeithCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leiva Morales, ÁngelesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilhoite, KathleenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Xie, JingwenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Poppy Meyer
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Monday, November 15: Galer Street School is a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.
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."
Quotations
“Shh! She said. The waiter. He's about to take their order. She leaned back and to her left, closer,closer,closer,her body like a giraffe's neck, until her chair shot out from under her and she landed on the floor. The whole restaurant turned to look. I jumped up to help. She stood up, righted the chair, and started in again. Did you see the tattoo one of them has on the inside of his arm? It looked like a roll of tape.

I took a gulp of margarita and settled into my fallback option, which was to wait her out.

Know what one of the guys at the drive-through Starbucks has on his forearm? Bernadette said. A paper clip! It used to be so daring to get a tattoo. And now people are tattooing office supplies on their bodies. You know what I say? Of course this was rhetorical. I say, dare not to get a tattoo. She turned around again, and gasped. Oh My God. It's not just any roll of tape. It's literally Scotch tape, with the green-and-black plaid. This is too hilarious. If you're going to tattoo tape on your arm, at least make it a generic old-fashioned tape dispenser! What do you think happened? Did the Staples catalogue get delivered to the tattoo parlor that day?” 
― Maria Semple, Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Our house is old. All day and night it cracks and groans, like it's trying to get comfortable but can't
Chihulys are the pigeons of Seattle. They're everywhere, and even if they don't get in your way, you can't help but build up a kind of antipathy toward them.
Like sick animals, everyone else had retreated into their warrens of misery.
Right before it shut, I caught a glimpse of the poor Japanese people. Nobody had moved. Some hands were frozen in midair, in the middle of doing a fold. It looked like a wax museum diorama of an origami presentation.
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When Bee aces her report card she claims her reward, which is a trip to Antarctica, but her mother, Bernadette, disappears due to her intensifying allergy to Seattle and people in general, which has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands and Bee uses emails, invoices, school memos, private correspondence, and other evidence to try and understand why her mother has left.
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