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?

16 thoughts on “Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

  1. I keep holding off on this one, despite all the great reviews, because I wasn’t a huge fan of Semple’s first novel. I found her dialogue and writing almost too “polished’ — perhaps a reflection of her Hollywood screenwriter expertise. I’m still considering, though. If I can get it from the library, I might take the plunge.


  2. Eek, yes, you totally sold me on the character so I can imagine losing her is quite the let down! I was surprised to hear it didn’t win, seeing it mentioned so much I’d naturally assumed it would do, it just seemed to be heading that way. Nevertheless despite the disappearance I’ll certainly have to look for a copy, now.


  3. I love epistolary novels and this was no exception . Your description “entertaining, quirky and wonderfully funny” is spot on!


  4. I’ve read a lot of good reviews of this book, but yours is the first that’s made me want to read it. I may keep it in mind when I’m gathering books to take on vacation with me.


  5. I do like epistolary novels! and the more recent ones of “found documents,” not just letters but emails etc. From my days living in Washington State, I also love novels set there. I meant to get on the library list for this – thank for the reminder!


  6. I do like epistolary novels ,I ve this for my summer break from work think be great one for garden reading in the sun well one can hope we have a bit ,all the best stu


  7. I seem to have totally missed this one from my radar (I think I turn off when I see the word ‘prize’?!) — it sounds like a great lighter read (and I’m all for mocking hipsters…)


  8. Oh I adored this, too! I loved the fact that you never knew quite what would happen next. The Antarctica part was brilliant and I loved how Audrey came through for Bee at the end. Ashamed to say I had to look up Seattle on the map because I wasn’t quite sure which part of America it was in *blush*


    1. Well, I have to look up English cities quite often too – it’s hard to get a sense of a country when you don’t live there! I loved Bernadette and Audrey was a great character, too. An overall lovely novel.


  9. “A few years ago I was in a bad way. I had quit my TV writing career and moved to Seattle, where everyone I met seemed to take an instant dislike to me. I was bursting with giggling love for my little daughter, but worried I was somehow wrecking her. I had spent two years writing and rewriting a novel full of agreeable characters, but the pages were lifeless beyond repair. I abandoned the whole thing. I blamed Seattle. Also, I really missed having an assistant. My partner, George, was genuinely worried I had gone insane.


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