I wasn’t going to read this book as it sounds crazy, plus I was not sure if I will get the book in time from the library. High rated reviews from Jill@Rhapsody in Books and Jenny made me thought perhaps this is worth a try.
If there are a few words that could sum up this novel, it would be: eccentric, Microsoft, Antartica, architecture, dysfunctional.
It’s about a woman call Bernadette Branch (maiden name Fox), who after an award winning architectural career fled from LA to Seattle. Husband Elgie Branch has a high flying job at Microsoft and Bernadette lost herself to her daughter Bee (who was actually named Balakrishnan, amusingly due to her health condition). Bee is a 15-year-old, very intelligent and the novel is told through her eyes. The blurb made it known that Bernadette will soon disappear, so here I am reading the book anticipating that Bernadette will disappear soon (because really the blurb should only tell you things that are happening about one-quarter of the book from the cover and not too far towards the end, so really I was surprised to find that Bernadette only disappear about three-quarter of the book!) and Bee is going to find her. There you are. The blurb basically tells you the summary of the entire novel.
As Bee resolved to understand her mom and her past history, she assembled a pile of documents consisting of a dossier of letters, emails, phone transcripts, doctors’ reports, instant messaging exchanges. I wasn’t expected to read a novel with so many formats but it was a nice surprise for me. The documents are written and narrated by a cast of characters like Bee’s dad, Bee’s dad Elgie’s colleague personal assistant Su-lin, a virtual assistant called Manjula Kapoor, a psychiatrist, a vindictive neighbour Audrey Griffin who scorn at Bernadette lack of participation at Galer Street parent-teacher association (why don’t you mind your own business Audrey?) and more.
What got me about the book were things that are left unsaid. After years of pouring her life away to domestic needs, Bernadette reach a meltdown point with the prospect of visiting Antartica. The feeling of always being singled out and not being understood, on top the mud slides incident and workplace infidelity pushed her over the edge and so she ran away.
Maria Semple is a TV comedy writer, and the pleasures of Where’d You Go, Bernadette are the pleasures of the best American TV. I suppose this is my problem because it has been such a long time I last watched American TV since I live in Europe. The book was quirky and entertaining, I smile a little here and there but none of the laugh out loud moment for me. It was a breeze to read this 300 odd pages book. I love the satire and the depiction of corporate life America. The happy ending is a little cheesy for me but I wouldn’t want it to end it in any other unhappy way. I didn’t get Bernadette, I thought there must be something wrong in her head and true to her psychiatrist’s words that she will be “a menace to the society if she doesn’t create”. I empathise with Bernadette for having stuck in a rut unable to get past the tragic incident of having her one of her prized creation destroyed.
But it is cool to have Bernadette as a mother and because the Branch family is super intelligent and there are lots of information and ideas thrown into the book, I get to learn a few new things myself. If you haven’t read a quirky book for awhile, this is good.
You will like this book if you:
- Love American TV comedy
- Like books which are contemporary and a satire of a dysfunctional family
- Like books which question the sanity of being a mother, a wife and stuck in a not-happening city
- Like books which introduces a lot of ideas which are not central to the plot
I have read half of 6 shortlists for this year’s Women’s Prize Fiction 2013 and the winner will be announced on the evening of 5th June. I am banking on Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life to win.
Hardback. Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012 Printed Length: 324 pages; Setting: Seattle and Antartica. Source: Reading Library. Finished reading on: 26 May 2013, Sunday.
About the writer:
Maria Keogh Semple (born June, 1964) is an American novelist and screenwriter. She is the author of This One is Mine. (Little, Brown 2008). Her television credits include Beverly Hills, 90210, Mad About You, Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan and Ellen.
Semple was born in Santa Monica, California. Her family moved to Spain soon after she was born. There her father, the screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. wrote the pilot for the television series Batman. The family moved to Los Angeles and then to Aspen, Colorado. Semple attended boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall, then received a BA in English from Barnard College in 1986.
Her first screenwriting job was in 1992, for the television show Beverly Hills, 90210. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy, Outstanding Television Series, in 1997 for Mad About You. In 2006 and 2007, she was nominated for a Writer’s Guild of America award, for Arrested Development. This One is Mine was a finalist for the 2010 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award. She appeared in the 2004 David O. Russell film I Heart Huckabees. She is active in the Seattle literary community, and is a founding member of Seattle 7 Writers. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. She has also taught fiction writing at the Richard Hugo House.