Get to the Point, Book Reviews: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Book Review Rules:
1. Get to the point.
– No drawn out hemming and hawing about recommending the book.
– The answer will either be “yes” or “no” followed up with points that are
relevant to the recommendation.

2. Honesty.
– No need for exaggeration or belaboring a point.
– I’m not into trashing authors or their works.

3. No Delving or Deep Diving
– I hate reading reviews where everything about a book is outlined, in which case, I become immediately disinclined to read the book for myself.
– I will leave room for discovery. Character names, situations, plot, etc. may or may not be a point of discussion.

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.


Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Would I recommend this book?

*This will be a brief review. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a popular novel and has been reviewed extensively. I’m not sure what else I can lend in terms of originality but I did want to express my two thumbs-up, as it were.

Favorite Quotes 

“’Can you believe the weather?’…’Actually, I CAN believe the weather. What I can’t believe is that I’m actually having a conversation about the weather.”

“’That’s right,’ she told the girls. ‘You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.’”

The Goods

1. Great pacing. Pacing will always be critical to my enjoyment as a reader.

2. Bernadette is a multi-faceted character that you will either love or love-to-hate. A short list of adjectives may include: complex, brilliant, snobby, loving, vengeful, neurotic, bitchy, paranoid, broken, savage, mysterious. There are times you want to scream at her, ‘Get over yourself and move on from the bullshit, you’re supposed to be brilliant for god’s sake!’ and there are moments where you think, ‘I can see why she’s a flake and a snob; just mechanisms to keep people away. After what she’s been through, I wouldn’t blame her.’

I found myself, unexpectedly, siding more with Bernadette than I thought I would. I warmed to her character after reading more of her dialogue such as mentioned above (favorite quotes) regarding boredom and Bernadette’s distaste for small talk. Two different passages in the book but consistent with Bernadette’s perspective on life. Personally, I dislike small talk to my core, and I do believe you are as bored in life as you allow yourself to be. It was nice to read these points of view expressed in a female MC.

3. I enjoyed the inner work-world experience at Microsoft. Sometimes, though, it was a tad much, as though the author was advocating working for Microsoft but not before you, the reader, realized what a privilege it would be. But it was interesting, nonetheless.

4. Bee, the daughter, and Elgie, the husband, are great characters in their own right, who lend to Bernadette as a character; their perspectives soften her.

The Not So Good

1. The affair Elgie has with his admin, Soo-Lin, wasn’t necessary. It came across as a predictable sort of filler for a character at a loss about his wife and all the crazy things going on with her. Elgie is a strong character, mentally and emotionally, the affair seemed out of context. It was a sad one-night, and one-note, affair so I’m not even sure it was worth putting to page.

The affair ended knowing Soo-Lin is pregnant and with Elgie likely getting back together with Bernadette. He sets his admin up with a new house and she seems to be happy with that consolation. And I’m over here reading this like…what? The flow of the affair, albeit a brief one, and its resulting aftermath, is confusing and unnecessary. If the affair was unnecessary, the surprise pregnancy was even less so. It’s a kink in the garden hose that is otherwise undisturbed and doing its job.

2. The conditions in which Bernadette is found in Antarctica, how she got to be there, what she thought she could do while in Antarctica, are just bizarre. I know its meant to be a happy wrap-up for Bee, but that doesn’t make it any less strange to me. I know Bernadette is a brilliant, modern, green architect, a MacArthur grant winning one no less, but that hardly makes her capable of building an all-green station in Antarctica.

Stick with me here: Bernadette “flew the coop” from her Seattle home to Antarctica via cruise ship for fear of being locked up for her erratic behavior, where she manages to break away from the cruise line, and then successfully stows away with a group of scientists where Bernadette becomes inspired to build the first green station in Antarctica? Kind of justifies locking Bernadette away in my opinion. Yet these over-the-top reactions and actions are meant to exonerate her, to prove that Bernadette is a sane but misunderstood genius unhappily living in Seattle.

The ending has a conclusion meant for an entirely different work of fiction. Maybe make that two kinks in the garden hose.

And yet, I still recommend Where’d You Go, Bernadette. As a whole, the novel is fun and engaging.

Christina Schmidt