Friday, April 12, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I borrowed a hardback copy from the public library.

My review:

Apparently Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) has described this as "one of the big burst-of-oxygen books this year." I will give it this: It definitely has a fresh style and perspective. When eighth-grader Bee brings home a perfect report card from her private school in Seattle, her mom and dad agree to reward her with a family trip to Antarctica. Unfortunately, "Mom" is not fond of people or of confined spaces that aren't the family's rambling, falling-apart home. Bernadette vanishes into thin air and Bee pieces together what happened from emails, notes, and transcripts.

The cast of characters all get to tell their own version of the story through this narration device, which lends the book most of its novelty and charm. We get each person's read on the situation and, more importantly, their justification (and rationalization!) for their actions and responses. This is a tricky way to tell a cohesive story, but Semple pulls it off pretty well. The reader does have to suspend disbelief that all of these people are so very verbose in all of their private correspondence, and the writing styles of all of the characters are virtually identical. Still, each character's perspective is unique enough to mostly make up for those deficiencies.

The end was a little unsatisfying somehow, but not surprisingly so. The development of the characters throughout the story made it almost inevitable, but I still found the wrap-up a little disappointing. It is, however, a fitting end to a breezy, lighthearted contemporary mystery.

My stars: 3

Objective stars: 3.5

Most descriptions of this book claim that Bernadette has "severe agoraphobia." I am no psychologist, but I am an introvert, and I think that labeling Bernadette agoraphobic is painting it pretty thick. If I had enough money to hole up in an Airstream trailer in my huge backyard and not deal with annoying people most of the time, I might do it, too. Especially if I were trying to escape some unwelcome notoriety. I posit that Bernadette is simply a garden-variety misanthropist who has the luxury of indulging in her preferences.

I had a hard time with this book because I think I identified a little too much with Bernadette, actually. I disliked some characters more than I was probably intended to. The book was supposed to be humorous and I can't say that I laughed once. I've also just never cared for the "document library" style of narration. Therefore I am giving this one a slightly higher "true rating" than my own enjoyment merited.

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