I bought Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple as part of my futile attack on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist. Anyway, the blurb of this novel sets it high on a pedestal and this is probably it’s first downfall for me. I had high expectations before I started.
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.
I feel like I missed the point of this novel. It’s a collection of all sorts of things from e-mails to letters to diary entries, all of which relate in some way or another to Bernadette Fox. There’s something about this novel I just didn’t click with, everyone’s whinging about something or other and the privilege they live in gets on my nerves a little. Bernadette and Bee simply didn’t resonate with me and I’m not even sure what Elgie was for.
Some of the subsidiary characters are brilliant though, I LOVE Bernadette’s e-mails to her Virtual Assistant in India because it struck such a chord with some of the work I’ve come across in my time freelancing and I also found the increasingly hysterical exchanges between Audrey and Soo Lin extremely funny too. There’s a touch of Marina Lewycka’s style to Semple’s novel which hasn’t gone unnoticed by other reviewers and from my perspective should be viewed quite positively.
The mish-mash of documents which make up the novel are revealed to have come into Bee’s possession after the novel’s climax and it begins to make a little more sense then but it isn’t a novel which struck a particular chord with me. I can appreciate Semple’s wit and some of her acerbic comments are worth remembering but it isn’t a breathtaking or ground-breaking, for me at least.