Ah Bernadette! You have got to love her in spite of all of her faults. She’s witty, intelligent, and an immensely creative architect. Unfortunately, something has happened to her, making her anti-social and borderline argoraphobic. This is a novel that explores what can go wrong with someone and how that person is perceived by others. It also speaks of personal limits. The reader can’t help but love Bernadette Fox because her rants are sometimes the ones we want to do ourselves, but prefer to do it in our heads. Not doing her job as an architect for a long while, she tries to cope with being stuck at home because she hates going out, while trying to raise her intelligent precocious daughter Bee. Meanwhile her husband, Elgin, is a big computer guru working for the omnipresent Microsoft or MS as the people call it in the book. He is the reason they have moved to Seattle.
The book is an amazing introspection on what is wrong in American society. Maria Semple has found an ingenious way of critiquing that through the usage of the different types of correspondence used to tell the story of what happens to Bernadette. The most original aspect of this book is that it is told from multiple perspectives, using letters, emails, faxes, doctors reports, and interviews. Some may argue that it isn’t literary enough because of that but I disagree. What better way to critique society while using one of its devil evils, emailing, etc. It’s clear that Semple has taken a lot of care into weaving the story. There are many issues that are developed such as husband/wife relationships, mother/daughter relationships, being wealthy, creating, socializing, integrating into a community, etc. What I love the most is that it got me to laugh out loud quite a few times. It is an entertaining and gratifying read. It really made me wonder how I would react to some of the things that happened to Bernadette. At one moment, there is a reference to a novel with a famous architect in it and Bernadette’s creativity rivals his ingenuity. The only thing is Bernadette is human and that fragility is what makes the reader empathise with her.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is not Maria Semple’s first novel. It was The One is Mine. It is the story of a profoundly unhappy woman named Violet Parry, who is living a luxurious life with her husband David and her toddler Dot. It’s not until she meets Teddy that things seem to be very different for her. Semple wrote on various popular television series where she’s proved she knows how to tell a story. She is credited for having worked on shows such as Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan Mad About You, 90210, and Ellen. Writing might be in her blood as they say since her father Lorenzo Semple, Jr. worked on the television series of Batman. Maria Semple lives in Seattle with her husband and her daughter Poppy. Check out the link below where Semple talks about how she went about writing Where’d You Go, Bernadette and mentions a few excellent pointers for debutant writers.
Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Genre: Adult Fiction/Humor/Contemporary
Published: August 2012
Edition: Little, Brown and Company
My rating: * * * * *
My favorite quote: ”I was downtown early one morning and I noticed the streets were full of people pulling wheelie suitcases. And I thought, Wow here’s city full of go-getters. Then I realized, no, these are all homeless bums who have spent the night in doorways and are packing up before they get kicked out. Seattle is the only city where you step in shit and you pray, please God, let this be dog shit.” (Where’d You Go, Bernadette, p. 124)
People are always asking me what my book club is reading and how we’ve managed to last so long. I put it down to mutual respect and sharing the same passion – reading, not to mention loving talking about books. It doesn’t matter whether they are intriguing, not so interesting, classics, historical, etc.. The main goal is to enjoy discussing books.
We are quite a large group now about fifteen and we are some very passionate, opinionated women when we discuss books. Things wouldn’t be so interesting if that wasn’t the case. Really I wouldn’t have it any other way. We started with eight members and as the years have gone on more people have joined and some have left. There are about five of us left from the original group.
The principal strengths of this reading group are that we are all different ages, nationalities (British, American, and French) and interests. That leaves a lot of room for discussion. How do things work? We choose our reading list towards the end of the school year in June. So we read seven books each year. Each member comes to the second to last meeting with two suggestions. I compile a list and yes at the moment it’s colossal. I send each member the complete list and that gives them time to research and decide what titles they want to vote for at our last meeting. The last meeting, we discuss our last book, vote for next year’s list, and try to decide which book we will start with in October. The thickest novel usually gets put up as choice #1 for October. This process allows everyone to acquire their books over summer in the UK or USA or maybe even arrange to borrow them from friends. In the future we may have to limit how many suggestions we put in because the list is starting to get just a little too long. So that’s it! Everything is organized, democratically voted on, and most of all a moment we all look forward to. Here are the choices for 2011-2012:
The next time we meet, April 14th, it will be to discuss The White Tiger. It was the 2008 Booker Prize winner. That always makes some members nervous. I’m assuming it’s going to be a challenge but that’s fine. I’m up for it! We’ve already read The Help, Sarah’s Key, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and The Slap. I’ve done posts on The Slap, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and The Help. Check them out if you want to know what I thought. Sarah’s Key – 2 stars The first half was extremely interesting and very moving but the second half was boring, stereotypical, and badly written. It’s really a shame because she did such a good job on the first half of the story. The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim – 4 stars the beginning of this book depressed me to no end, but by the time I reached the middle of the book I started to find it more interesting and even more so after the book club discussion. It was a little disappointing that he didn’t explore more closely certain episodes but all in all it was a good read. It is Jonathan Coe after all.
As for the rest of the books that we’ve read since 2005, here’s a long list and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. The list is extensive but they are all interesting and engaging in their own words. I’ll put a few of my favorites in bold. Who knows maybe you’ll find something you’d like to read, reread, or that you just plain forgot about.
Suite Française – Irène Némirovsky
Wash the Blood Clean From My Hands – Fred Vargas
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown – Couldn’t finish this book. It was like a history text-book. Argh!!! It was like a giant sleeping pill to me, but it is one of the most exhaustive narratives recounting Native American life.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Water For Elephants – Sara Guen
Blue Angel – Francine Prose
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Midnight’s Children – Salmon Rushdie – Couldn’t finish this book. I couldn’t figure out who was who. He kept changing the characters’ names. A little too pompous for my taste!
The Bastard of Istanbul – Elif Shafak
The Memory Keepers Daughter – KIm Edwards
Skinny Legs and All – Tom Robbins
The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi
The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
The Darling – Russel Banks
How to Be Good – Nick Hornby
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
An Equal Music – Vikram Seth
The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
Saturday – Ian McEwan
Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck
I am Charlotte Simmons – Tom Wolfe
Lignes de Failles – Nancy Huston
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
What I Loved – Sylvie Hustvedt
A History of Tractors in Ukrainian – Marina Lewycka
The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
The Other Boleyn Girl – Philipa Gregory
The Alchemist – Paulo Coello
The Lady and the Unicorn – Tracey Chevalier
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffennegger
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Brick Lane – Monica Ali
On Beauty – Zadie Smith
My Life in France – Julia Child
The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer/Annie Barrows
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson
The Virgin Blue – Tracey Chevalier
The Ginger Tree – Oswald Wynd
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
The Comedians – Graham Green