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Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel Paperback – April 2, 2013
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You don't have to know Seattle to get Maria Semple's broadly satirical novel.... Underlying the nontraditional narrative are insights into the cost of thwarted creativity and the power of mother-daughter bonds, although a reader may be having too much fun to notice."―O, The Oprah Magazine
"Delightfully droll.... Semple...cuts a wry slice of a life-one that's populated by private school helicopter parents, obsessively eco-conscious neighbors, and green-juice swilling, TED-talking husbands-and one that's sharp enough to make us feel slightly relieved about not having to live anywhere quite so bucolic."―Megan O'Grady, Vogue
"The characters in Where'd You Go, Bernadette may be in real emotional pain, but Semple has the wit and perspective and imagination to make their story hilarious. I tore through this book with heedless pleasure."
―Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom
"There's a lot to like in Semple's charming novel, including the vivacious humor and the lesson that when creative forces like Bernadette stop creating, they become 'a menace to society.' Even more appealing is the mutually adoring mother-daughter relationship at its warm heart."―Heller McAlpin, NPR
"In her second novel...Semple pieces together a modern-day comic caper full of heart and ingenuity....a compelling composite of a woman's life-and the way she's viewed by the many people who share it. As expected from a writer who has written episodes of Arrested Development, the nuances of mundane interactions are brilliantly captured, and the overarching mystery deepens with each page, until the thoroughly satisfying dénouement."―Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
"A comedic delight..."―Family Circle
"Agoraphobia and Antarctica are among the elements in Maria Semple's terrific novel."―Parade
"Semple's affecting characters, not-necessarily-nice humor and surprising plot twists make this novel an enchanting ride."―Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
"Warm, dark, sad, funny-and a little bit screwball.... This is an inventive and very funny novel that gets bonus points for transcending form."―Susan Coll, The Washington Post
"[A] cracklingly smart family dramedy.... [I was] stunned and transported by this extraordinarily powerful and intelligent novel."―Lev Grossman, Time
"With its big heart set on acceptance, BERNADETTE feels something like coming home."―Paul Constant, The Stranger
"A shrewd yet compassionate portrait of family dysfunction and the volatility of genius in laugh-out-loud, irresistibly high-spirited prose.... WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTEtakes readers on an original and movingly imaginative adventure."―Catherine Straut, Elle
"Semple's ear for satirizing this world is sharp and scathingly funny; she could probably turn her novel into a stand-up act."―Stewart Oksenhorn, The Aspen Times
"Semple, once a writer for Arrested Development, picks apart the mundane interactions of everyday life with a hilarious hand, and you're sure to be as swept up in this witty, inventive mystery as we were."―Emily Temple, Flavorpill
"WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is fresh and funny and accomplished, but the best thing about it was that I never had any idea what was going to happen next. It was a wild ride..."―Kate Atkinson, author of Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog
"Maria Semple dissects the gory complexities of familial dysfunction with a deft and tender hand. WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a triumph of social observation and black comedy by a skillful chronicler of moneyed malaise."―Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers
"[An] engrossing and whip-smart modern epistolary novel..."―Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
"Semple paints each character with depth and tenderness while keeping the tone upbeat; no easy feat for a novel about a mother who pulls a disappearing act."―Korina Lopez, USA Today
"[A] romp of a novel.... Semple...nail[s] Seattle's idiosyncrasies in wickedly funny send-ups."―Barbara Lloyd McMichael, The Bellingham Herald
"Utterly delightful....Semple used to write for the revered cult hit Arrested Development, and she brings plenty of squirming comedy to the novel, which manages to be that rare good read that actually makes you feel good at the end. Her send-up of Seattle is hilarious, with its Victims Against Victimhood support groups, moms offering organic gardeners swiss chard in lieu of payment, and teachers who are so PC that fourth graders are expected to seriously debate the pros and cons of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. But the heart of the book belongs to Bee, who, as an admissions counselor puts it, tests off the charts for grit and poise; and her mother, who, for all her neuroses, did a bang-up job of turning out one terrific kid."―Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor
"A touching and hilarious portrait of the anxiety producing, high powered Seattle lifestyle of a somewhat eccentric family of three (and their dog Ice Cream).... This is a great read, well written and populated by characters you care about deeply."―Ruth Freeman, The Norwalk Citizen
"Stands to become a cult favorite.... Like Jane Austen-who set the gold standard for social satire-Semple's most ridiculous characters are convinced that they're the normal ones, and it's wonderful fun to watch as they behave abominably, believing themselves blameless.... Semple has a keen ear for the nuances of different voices, and it's a joy to get to know these people.... Bernadette is...marvelous. Her rants read like the best comedy routines.... It's the rare book that actually deserves the term "laugh-out-loud funny," but I found myself reading passages from almost every page to anyone who would listen, even as I could barely articulate the words through my own laughter."―Malena Watrous, San Francisco Chronicle
"Intertwined with the funny stuff is the heartfelt story of a personal crisis of a creative talent who's slipped off the rails... Bernadette's journey is fresh, funny, and thought provoking."―Anne Payne, The Florida Times-Union
"Comic lines and...fast-paced events."―Nan Willard Cappo, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"I don't even know where to begin with how fantastic it is.... I ate up the Microsoft-obsessed setting and the fabulous, mad-but-not-really Bernadette. Go, get it, thank me later."―Megan Angelo, Glamour.com
"If wacky, anxiety-prone geniuses are some of your favorite people, then pick up Maria Semple's WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE to add Bernadette Fox and her family to your list of hilarious companions. Bernadette and company don't mind cursing, so if you do, please be warned. But if not, then you've got a stamped passport to Semple's expertly crafted and rollicking, laugh-till-you-cry adventure that will have you tearing through the pages to find out if Bernadette is gone for good."―Dawn Andrus Paine, Daily Herald (Utah)
"Well-plotted and masterfully satirical.... WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is really, really funny, and not in the usual way that suggests the author is trying to be funny to cover up their deficiencies in plot or styling. As it turns out, Maria Semple is both a good writer and a funny writer, but she prefers to be the latter."―Janet Potter, The Millions
"Sublime..."―Frank Bruni, on his blog for The New York Times
"With only her second book, TV writer-turned novelist Maria Semple has won rave reviews with a withering, but ultimately affectionate satire of Seattle's privileged set."―Chris Michaud, Reuters
"If Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl represented the dark heart of the summer literature, Maria Semple's...BERNADETTE embodies the sunnier, funnier side.... Semple has a flair for satire and screwball jinks, and she has produced a great gift to avid readers: a book that you never want to finish reading."―Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
"An epistolary novel for the twenty-first century.... Paced like a beach read, BERNADETTEhas a scathing wit and a casual storytelling style that pulls the reader in and forces her to listen."―Capital Times' blog
"One of the funniest stories you can read this year."―Donna Liquori, The Albany Times Union
"A powerful mosaic of mental illness, artistic temperament, and family melodrama.... Semple's background in television and comedy... provide[s] the foundation for this subversively funny novel and its all-too-rare blend of humor and heart.... In a time when everything is a version of something else, how extraordinary-and exciting-to read a novel that subverts conventions to create an experience that feels so fresh."―Jeremy Medina, The L Magazine
"This book is hysterical, kind of wacky, and utterly original."―Entertainment Weekly's "The Bullseye"
"One of the big burst-of-oxygen books this year.... clever and inventive but also genuine and heartfelt."―Gillian Flynn for The New York Times' "Inside the List"
"Semple's epistolary novel satirizes Seattle, Microsoft, helicopter parents, the elite, and the overeducated-while revealing truths about family, genius, ambition, and resilience."―Gillian Flynn, GQ
[A] clever story of family dysfunction."―Dailycandy
"Marketed as a beach read, give this to your soccer moms who have come to the realization that maybe they aren't 'all that.' With a Tiffany-blue cover, it's wrapped perfectly!"―Michelle Will, The Kitsap Sun
"A quirky comic masterpiece...about an irresistibly precocious teen and her awesomely agoraphobic mom.... BERNADETTE is an ingenious, enjoyable, continually surprising farce."―David Hiltbrand, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"In appearance, this may be the perfect beach read to go with your retro bikini. Inside the cover, Semple's novel is funny, suspenseful, multi-faceted, multi-media, and sad, too - spot-on social commentary..."―Jen Doll, The Atlantic Wire
"Unputdownable!"―Sumana Ghosh-Witherspoon, Parents.com
"A hilarious, nasty, heartfelt satire about parenting, privilege, genius, resilience and life in Seattle."―Gillian Flynn on Today
"It's the first epistolary novel I've ever loved, and sharp as hell."―Emma Straub for Salon
"Few novels will make you laugh aloud the way Semple's satiric take on a disintegrating Seattle family does."―The Charlotte Observer
"Stunningly astute.... Beyond its ethnographic value as a snapshot of the underlying hypocrisies of the way the top five percent lives now, WYGB delivers at least one knowing chuckle per page in an innovative structure worthy of its own TED Talk."―Christina Spines, Word & Film
"This funny and heartfelt novel has it all: love, mystery, infidelity, and humor. The complications of human life are on full display and examined with absurdity."―Laura Anderson, BLOGCRITICS.ORG
"Tart [and] searingly funny."―Jessica Grose, Fast Company
"Clever, witty and laugh-out-loud funny. And that's a rare and wonderful thing."―The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"The romp that ensues throughout Semple's sophomore novel is cleverly crafted, and allows the reader to develop strong ties to the author's masterfully drawn...[and] quirky characters."―Shelly Walston, The Wichita Eagle
"Delicious, funny, irreverent, [and] smart..."―Minnesota Reads
"Really, really funny.... A novel of refuge if you find yourself, like Bernadette, bogged down by the peskiness of privilege."―Stacey Pavlick, Spectrum Culture
"Fast-paced and compulsively readable...and beneath its nimble storytelling is a resonant exploration of a mother and daughter's unbreakable bond."―Elliott Holt, The Morning News Tournament of Books
"Maria Semple brings her A game."―Chicago Now
"A lovely story of a creative lull."―Jessa Crispin, Architect Magazine
"Seriously funny and clever."―In Touch Weekly
"Wildly creative."―Jennifer Haupt, Psychology Today
"A tremendously entertaining work of social satire combined with a mystery that kept me wondering what would happen next right up to the end."―Boing Boing
"[A] dazzling satire.... One of 2012's most hilarious books."―The Brooklyn Eagle
"A truly inventive mother-daughter story full of offbeat characters, clever humor and drama both intrapersonal and interpersonal."―Laura Pearson, Time Out Chicago
"Smart [and] entertaining."―Ihsan Taylor, New York Times Book Review
"To say this book is quirky would be something of an understatement. It is also very funny, snarky, smart, occasionally confusing, and cleverly constructed."―Aspen Daily News
"Funniest book since the invention of the printing press."―Gary Shteyngart for Entertainment Weekly
About the Author
- Publisher : Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316204269
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316204262
- Lexile measure : HL820L
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.55 x 1.2 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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They are planning on taking a trip to Antarctica over Christmas break, a reward for Bee's perfect report card. But things start going awry. And then Bernadette disappears...
This is a strange story told in an unique way. It's told by Bee with the help of emails, letters from school personnel, police reports, medical reports, invoices, etc. This book is satirical; certainly not a book anchored in "everyday life" realism. In this regard, it reminds me a bit of Rachael Joyce's "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye".
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" isn't for everyone. Of course you can say that about every book ever published, but that goes double here. I would've given up on it if not for a reading buddy who pushed me to stick it out. The characters are not likable in the beginning (or understandable), especially Bernadette. But once I got through the first quarter, I was invested in the story. And when I reached the last page, I realized wisps of Bee, Bernadette, and Elgin have been written in my memory bank with a permanent marker. They'll fade, but never completely leave.
Can't possibly give this less than 4 stars.
There are so many layers here, and my review will not do it justice. It is a screamingly funny and intelligent satire of the wealthy, bright, but eccentric "Microsoft executive types" in Seattle. A review on Amazon got it just right: "A whip-smart, hysterical dramady about a family in crisis after the disappearance of its misanthropic matriarch." That matriarch was Bernadette.
Bernadette—at one time a revolutionary architect with a cult-like following—dropped out of that world to accompany her equally brilliant and odd husband to Seattle for his ground-breaking work in artificial intelligence with Microsoft. Their delightful daughter Bee is achieving great things at school and is relatively oblivious to her family's eccentricities or her mother's increasing agitation and agoraphobia in dealing with the "gnats"—parents at Bee's school whose antics and priorities are hilariously sublime satire.
Bernadette's disappearance sends Bee and her father on a poignant, intense, and globe-trotting search, during which they uncover much about themselves and about the power of love and the importance of being true to one's self.
This was recommended to me because it was "quirky and fun". I learned the author had written for a few quirky comedy television shows, which helped me in setting my expectations before jumping in. And just as anticipated, it reads like a screenplay for a fun quirky comedy. Going in with that expectation, I found the book to be a delight to read ~ the author takes what would be heavy issues in reality, and lets us see them in another light hearted way.
Also, having grown up in Seattle, just a few years behind Bill Gates, and having classmates that went to work for Microsoft, there was a nostalgic / sentimental feel for me, as I read through the escapades of Bernadette and the Galer Street Gnats ... definitely quirky and fun.
Top reviews from other countries
The book is told, initially, in a series of letters, reports and especially e-mails between the characters. Bernadette has been a successful, aware winning, architect but is now a recluse living with her husband and daughter in a semi-derelict house and never going out. She is at war with the other mothers, whom she describes as gnats, and she even puts up a placard on her boundary to insult them when they are holding an event. She suspects her husband of having an affair and she is challenged by the fact that her daughter wants to go to Antarctica. In the end Bernadette goes alone after running away from a difficult situation and is declared missing so her family go to try and find her and the book switches to the point of view of Bee.
I really wasn't quite sure what to make of this book. I didn't know if Bernadette's behaviour was supposed to be a satire on how some American women do behave or whether the author thought it was as weird as I did. I had no real frame of reference. I recognised nothing in Bernadette to which I could relate and I, therefore, found her behaviour difficult to understand. I didn't recognise the middle-class lifestyle of Bernadette and her family in Seattle and the expectations that would come with that or the pressures of other to conform.
When I had finished the book I was no wiser. I certainly didn't find it funny as others appear to have done.
The story begins with the shocking fact that Bee's mother, the funny, talented but somewhat volatile Bernadette, is missing. She was last seen just before Christmas, and Bee's father Elgin, a celebrated Microsoft geek, is refusing to speak about his wife or the disappearance. So Bee decides to investigate and begins to chart the events leading up to Bernadette's disappearance through emails, doctor's and police reports written by people who came in contact with Bernadette and could have had a role to play in her disappearance.
What follows is a hilarious, tragic and poignant tale of Bernadette's life. Artistically talented and driven, Bernadette has been going through a personal crisis for some time. Soon after moving to Seattle to support her husband's new glittering career at Microsoft, she realises how different from everyone else she is and feels ostracised in the forever rainy, suburban Seattle. The well-meaning, but small-minded, parents of Bee's school (or Gnats as Bernadette calls them) soon begin to develop a strong resentment against Bee's mother, which turns into an obsessive hatred. The one person who could help Bernadette, Elgin, remains ignorant of Bernadette's unhappiness and she becomes more withdrawn. Elgin doesn't seem to notice that Bernadette hardly ever speaks to anyone, or leaves the house, apart from Bee's school runs, during which she stays within the confines of her car, wearing a dark sun glasses whatever the weather. Or that she spends all of her days inside an Airstream trailer parked in the garden of the family's falling-down house.
When Bee wants the whole family to go on a three week cruise to Antarctica, Bernadette panics. How will she able to leave the house and spend three weeks in the company of complete strangers?
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a brilliantly conceived tale of suburbia, and how the minor setbacks of everyday can turn into major disasters. Telling a story of a 50-year-old woman's personal crisis through the voice of a 14-year-old would have been problematic had it not been for the injections of the emails and reports written by grown-ups. These `real' documents give the story a multi-layered quality. Reading between the lines of emails written from one (female) parent from Bee's school to another (the two Gnats) is particularly enjoyable. It's not what's said, but what's not...(I've read a few of these in my time).
I gave this book five stars, which is is rare, but I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. Take it on a long journey, or on holiday with you, or read it when you've broken your little toe (an every day occurrence).