The next time I say that I don’t like literary fiction, remind me how much I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Just remind me, okay? Because I really kind of loved this book.
Why did I like this book so much?
The first person narrator is Bernadette’s daughter, Bee. However, the bulk of the story is told through a bunch of found documents: letters, emails, newspaper clippings, web pages, and notes. So, immediately, we’re drawn into Bee’s head as she tries to cobble together what happened to her mother. Where did she go? And why did she leave?
I loved that the story is more about why Bernadette left than anything. She seems happy, she loves her daughter, she’s getting along okay. Or at least she appears to be. I mean, she’s also a great big mess living a great big messy life. But that’s not what Bee sees. What Bee sees is a mother who loves her daughter, period. So the found documents really work to create a full picture of all of the people around Bernadette and how they see her versus how Bee sees her versus how she sees herself.
One of the best things about the use of the found documents is seeing the many facets of Bernadette but also the myriad ways different people can see one situation. Also, I loved seeing how all these different people are lying to themselves or creating their own fiction about their lives. And also how they’re blind to their own flaws and their own messes because they’re so wrapped up in other people’s lives. It’s really kind of brilliant.
Mostly, though, I had so much fun reading this book. It was fun and funny. The characters are all mostly terrible people (except for Bee), but they all felt so real, and I could imagine them actually occupying the world we live in. (What makes them terrible, btw, is that they hate each other.)
Bee reminds me so much of my daughter. SO MUCH. So I have a real affinity for her.
Oh! I also dug the look at creativity and what happens when creative people stop creating. Bernadette is a brilliant architect without a project. Most of her life is avoiding people who know her previous work because she’s embarrassed/upset/sad that she has been stagnant. She hides inside her house and avoids people so she doesn’t have to talk about her work or lack thereof. I really appreciated that and I loved that Semple showed us that Bernadette was a genius and why she was instead of just being all, “She won a MacArthur, so obviously.”
P.S. Audrey’s turnaround is fantastic and believable.
Anyway, I am trying to get my book club to read this book because the core is serious (a woman who is lost–figuratively and literally), but it’s so playful and fun in the way Semple puts it together. My kingdom for a chance to pick the book club book. I swear.