… the once-famous female architect who suddenly goes missing? This forms the central mystery of Maria Semple’s delightful novel, Where’d You Go Bernadette, which I have to admit, I picked up only because the cover was so eye-catching and intriguing. Thankfully, this was a case of judging a book by its cover gone right.
The story focuses on Bernadette Fox, a once-renowned architect and a current agoraphobe who spends most of her time trying as hard as she can NOT to interact with society, even going so far as to hire a virtual personal assistant in India. However, we only learn about Bernadette through the other characters, mainly in the form of letters, emails, and other forms of correspondence which have been meticulously collected by Bernadette’s young, precocious daughter, Bee. When Bee receives her final perfect report card, she cashes in on her family’s promise to take her on a trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s agoraphobia kicks into full gear, and before the family can leave, she has disappeared without a trace.
The novel walks a fine line between absurdity and over-the-top silliness, yet rarely strays into unbelievable territory. And there is an overall feeling of optimism by novel’s end, a feeling that people are indeed capable of owning up to their mistakes and taking responsibility for them. It’s actually this idea that strays ever-so-slightly across the line into unbelievability at the end of the book, but by that point, I didn’t really care. It was a funny, joyous, absurd, slightly exasperating, but ultimately enjoyable experience, and I’m happy that the book lived up to its cover.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)