Where’d You Go Bernadette was swallowed in its entirety by the hype monster. For awhile, you couldn’t exist in book world without being inundated with Maria Semple’s latest novel from every corner. Best Book of the YEAR so many bookish types boasted. And I bought into the hype, bought the book, and then proceeded to be mostly disappointed.
Bernadette is mom to Bee and quite the eccentric. She’s mostly a recluse and hates pretty much everyone in the surrounding Seattle area. But when Bee brings home the perfect report card, Bernadette is forced to give in and accept Bee’s reward – a family vacation to Antarctica. Wackiness starts to unfold in the weeks leading up the the trip until Bernadette suddenly goes missing. Semple’s novel is a collection of correspondences put together by Bee in an attempt to locate her mother. Sounded ingenious.
But here’s the thing – I was mostly bored or annoyed. On the surface, I can’t fault Bernadette much. As a lighthearted beach read there’s a lot to enjoy here. I may have even chuckled out loud once or twice. But read any deeper and things start to unravel. Not all that much happens, and Bernadette is unlikable.
Now unlikable characters can have a lot going for them and are often the most interesting characters to read. That’s where Bernadette fails. I didn’t find Bernadette fleshed out enough to be interesting. I felt there was nothing to learn from her and that mostly the reasons presented by Semple for her craziness weren’t very substantial. I was left scratching my head and mostly just wanting to smack Bernadette. What’s even worse is that all of the adult characters are mostly the same – annoying and not in the least bit interesting. The quirkiness of this book worked against the story when it should have enhanced the story.
At many times, the novel mostly felt like a ‘let’s all hate on Seattle and bash the readers over their heads with Seattle stereotypes’. That gets old quickly. What, if anything, saves this book is Bernadette and Bee’s relationship. Their mother-daughter bond felt unique and honest. I enjoyed the scenes they had together and wished there had been more. I think Bernadette tries a little too hard to be quirky and loses its grip on reality.
Have you read Where’d You Go Bernadette? What did you think? Does it deserve to be on ‘best of’ lists?