Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Book Review

Book Review

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Book Review

Andrea Galea, Contributing Writer

 DETAILS: Release Date: Jan 01, 2012; Writer: Maria Semple; Genre: Comedy; Publisher: Little, Brown & Company    

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an epistolary novel that explores the prevalent eccentricities and flaws that plague our contemporary society while inserting witty, scintillating, satiric jabs at just about anyone and everyone. Bernadette Fox, the agoraphobic protagonist, struggles to come to terms with her traumatizing past and hectic present. Her erudite daughter and technologically-crazed husband prove to both aid her assimilation into this crazed society and  shelter her from the unconventional world that surrounds her. Chaos ensues amidst the shallow and entitled “Mercedes” parents of the children of Seattle and the “politically correct,” privileged institutions. Will Bernadette summon the power to counteract this superficial world or will she succumb to the pressures of a perfectionist society? Despite this constant battle between inner beliefs and preconceived judgments, Maria Semple depicts a loving mother-daughter relationship that extends as far as trips to remote continents (Antarctica).

Instead of glorifying individuality among the masses, we as a culture subconsciously promote assimilation to the point of banality.”

I was quite intrigued by Semple’s ability to interconnect distinct “artifacts” of everyday life to create a satirical narrative. The epistolary format of the novel intertwines collections of emails, letters, and personal relics (even FBI reports!) that alone may seem meaningless and trivial. Yet, when put together they unveil pivotal character attitudes and cultural references. Bernadette opines in an email to her hired personal assistant from India, Manjula, “It’s like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. ‘You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.’” Bernadette attempts to categorize a stagnant society that is preoccupied with lavish materials and the social approval of others. The novel seeks to comment on the high esteem we place on our appearances and the dire necessity to “fit in.” Instead of glorifying individuality among the masses, we as a culture subconsciously promote assimilation to the point of banality.

Semple’s humor adds a lighthearted tone that prevents passages from becoming too serious or severe. Personally, it was impossible not to somehow relate facets of my life with the absurdities presented in the novel. This concept of utilizing humor to give meaning to a pattern of thematic and structural stereotypes in our world allowed me to reflect on what is considered as “norm” nowadays. Judgment pervades all aspects of our society and we all fall prey to the perpetuation of that sort of “self-evaluation” of others, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette manages to depict the complications that arise when people are pitted against each other due to hearsay and circumstance (i.e. Audrey and Bernadette).

The novel taught me that no matter how far one goes in an attempt to escape their problems, whether it be a relocation of their home or complete isolation in their home, it is impossible to fully rid themselves until they wholeheartedly confront that problem.  Overall Grade: B+



(*this review was submitted from Ms. Zosche’s Contemporary Novels course)


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