DowntimeExposeWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

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The wait for the witty and clever ‘Where’d you Go, Bernadette’ to be distributed in Jakarta bookstores was quite a while. Once stores had started to display it, copies sold out immediately. Those like me who didn’t get a copy and couldn’t wait any longer for the next shipping decided to buy the e-book – because who can afford to miss the hype? Friends talked highly of it and it has quite a high rating on Goodreads, one of the world’s largest websites for e-book sales and reviews. Turns out, the book is worth all the rage.    

The book’s cover makes it easy to assume it’s just another underrated chick lit, but Goodreads has labeled it “general fiction” and Amazon filed it in the “Humorous Fiction” section. Regardless, lovers of chick lit will certainly sink their teeth into this book, which addresses issues of modern womanhood. 

Written as a series of letters, the book is a typical, modern-day epistolary like Sophie Kinsella’s ‘Shopaholic’ series. In ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’, the narrative is conveyed in a series of emails, letters, articles, police reports, TED transcripts and memos written by the characters to tell the story of the main character, Bernadette Fox, described as a misunderstood genius. We discover her back story and what led to her disappearance from the first-person point-of-view of Bernadette’s 13-year-old daughter, Bee. 

The story begins when Bee aces her report card and claims her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. Bernadette, a troubled personality, tries her hardest to make her daughter’s wish come true even though she’s an acute misanthropic and has agoraphobic tendencies. 

 As we go deeper into the story, we learn how reclusive Bernadette’s lifestyle is, how destructive her anxious habits are and how they test the patience of her loved ones. Bernadette hired a virtual assistant from India to run her household errands and to take care of administrations for the Antarctica trip just so she wouldn’t have to meet people. After a catastrophic event involving her neighbor, whose husband attempts to stage an intervention on her anxiety and paranoia, Bernadette disappears, leaving Bee to pick up the pieces.

While this book isn’t high-minded literature, it’s touching. It teaches us to find what makes us happy and learn how to balance it with the expectations of others. It’s a great novel about a woman falling apart and putting herself back together again.