I was very pleased to spot Where’d You Go, Bernadette on the bookshelf of my B&B in Edinburgh. I snapped it up and jumped right into it on my flight home. It’s a perfect aeroplane book – so easy to get into and with a simple, but catchy storyline.
It also contains some wonderful characters. Bernadette being my favourite, with her big sunglasses, silk scarves and eccentric personality. She doesn’t fit in with her neighbours in Seattle and the other mothers of Galer Street school resent her. This leads to some very comical arguments between Bernadette and an especially unlikable Audrey Griffin.
When Bernadette’s daughter Bee achieves perfect grades, she is rewarded with a holiday to Antarctica. As the trip draws near, Bernadette begins to unravel. She has been on the edge of a nervous breakdown for years and triggered by the daunting idea of crossing the Drake Passage by boat, she struggles to overcome her anxiety. Then, with plot twists including the Russian mafia, the FBI and a mud slide, Bernadette disappears.
The book is told mostly in a series of letters, emails and faxes with a narrative from Bee holding it all together. I’m not usually fond of this type of writing style, but in this instance it really brings the characters to life.
Where’d You Go Bernadette is a fun and vibrant read, but handles difficult issues, such as mental health, respectfully. I was particularly impressed with how Maria Semple set up the mother-daughter and daughter-father relationships. Bee’s honest and witty narrative describes her mother with pride and warmth but she can be dismissive of her father Elgin. I enjoyed watching their relationship grow, with some moving, but never gratuitous moments.
On a side note, I have a soft spot for Elgin. He’s a ‘superstar’ working at Microsoft on a top-secret project called ‘Samantha 2’. Having recently started work in for a large technology firm myself, reading all the Microsoft jargon made me chuckle!
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