Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Book rating: 05 Paperback Phoenix

By (author) Maria Semple

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'The funniest book I've read in a decade. I laughed to the point of crying on an airplane. My wife thought I'd lost my mind until she read it a few days later' John Green, MARIE CLAIRE 'Maria Semple's witty, engaging novel takes the form of a collage of documents, emails, transcripts, liveblogs, FBI reports and magazine articles, all strung together by Bee Branch, a smart and articulate 15-year-old girl, but beneath this surface playfulness is a fascinating story of one woman's retreat from the world ...refreshing in its honesty and complexity' OBSERVER 'A novel full of honesty and heart' CNN Bernadette Fox is notorious. To Elgie Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind, she's his hilarious, volatile, talented, troubled wife. To fellow mothers at the school gate, she's a menace. To design experts, she's a revolutionary architect. And to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, quite simply, mum. Then Bernadette disappears. And Bee must take a trip to the end of the earth to find her. WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a compulsively readable, irresistibly written, deeply touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's place in the world.

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Author information

Maria Semple worked in Los Angeles as a television writer for 15 years, working on hit shows including ELLEN, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, MAD ABOUT YOU and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? was shortlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction, and won the 2013 Melissa Nathan Award. Maria lives in Seattle.

Customer reviews

By Marianne Vincent 19 Apr 2014 5

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is the second novel by American author and TV writer, Maria Semple. When Bernadette Fox disappears two days before Christmas and a scheduled family trip to Antarctica, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee is determined to track her down. She is sure that her dad, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch, knows more than he's letting on. And she's convinced that the shouting match with another school-mom, Audrey Griffiths, was the trigger for the disappearance. Bee's narration of events is interspersed with emails, notes, a school report, letters, bills, blog posts, announcements, journal articles, a poem, an audio transcript and several faxes, each in a different font and format, and all of which fill in the background facts on incidents and characters. Thus the reader learns about Bernadette's decline from celebrated young architect to socially anxious semi-recluse, Bee's precarious early childhood and Elgin's rise to MS fame, as well as what led to Bernadette's flight and why the FBI got involved. Semple's characters develop, and not always in an expected manner: one surprisingly discovers a conscience; another disappointingly gives in to temptation; another metamorphoses, perhaps predictably, from small and benign to large and threatening. They are characters that are familiar from everyday life: the fawning admin, the venomous school mom, the hard-working father, the text-book psychiatrist, the excruciatingly enthusiastic fund-raiser. As Bee trails her mom to the ends of the earth, the full gamut of reactions to loss is depicted. This is a hilarious book that nonetheless touches on some topical issues including work/life balance, trust, identity theft, post-traumatic stress and the best way to remove blackberry bushes. Readers may find some parts bring a lump to the throat, but will spend most of this clever novel laughing out loud.

Review quote

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a wonderful piece of satire that pinpoints so many of the flaws in our current society. [Semple's] writing is sharp and witty but also incredibly heart-warming. DOG EAR DISCS It has had a strong hardback life, it's had some great reviews, now it's got to really capture the masses. I normally don't like books written in emails, journals, notes form, and had not realised this was - just as I hadn't realised Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was! This has the same feel, same contagious look, same wacky scenario (well, not quite), same relentless pull. From page one I was smitten, my dislike for emails forgotten. It is the mother/daughter relationship which is so brilliant, that and the character of Bernadette - a prize-winning architect who doesn't realise that what she needs in life is a new project Clever, witty and hugely satisfying THE BOOKSELLER it's a very enjoyable read and the satirical look at modern life THE BOOKBAG Laugh-out-loud funny and bitingly satirical DAILY EXPRESS a breathtakingly original comedy ES MAGAZINE Maria Semple's witty, engaging novel takes the form of a collage of documents, emails, transcripts, liveblogs, FBI reports and magazine articles, all strung together by Bee Branch, a smart and articulate 15-year-old girl, but beneath this surface playfulness is a fascinating story of one woman's retreat from the world...refreshing in its honesty and complexity THE OBSERVER a novel full of honesty and heart CNN The funniest book I've read in a decade. I laughed to the point of crying on an airplane. My wife thought I'd lost my mind until she read it a few days later. -- John Green MARIE CLAIRE an invigorating, hilarious, addictive ride of a novel -- Maggie O'Farrell Local menace, genius architect, recluse, mother: meet Bernadette Fox and her Mensa-level teenage daughter Bea as they travel from silicon valley-Seattle to Antartica and back again. With the kind of sharp, wish-I-wrote-it dialogue you'd expect from a former Saturday Night Live scriptwriter, this is like Tina Fey wrote Welcome to the Goon Squad. I can't say enough about this book, I loved it. -- Sam Baker HARPERS BAZAAR Witty and compelling. THE SUN ON SUNDAY This fiercely sophisticated novel... whips us around in the maelstrom that is Bernadette Fox: a woman on the edge. SAINSBURY'S MAGAZINE full of quirky charm about the mother/daughter bond GOOD HOUSEKEEPING This novel, shortlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction, uses email correspondence to hilarious and heartbreaking effect. The disappearance of Bernadette Fox drives the engaging plot, with the mother/daughter relationship across geographical divides at its core METRO When eccentric ex-architect Bernadette goes AWOL, her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, goes all Sherlock and reads her mum's emails for some answers - and a secret past. Surprisingly, I found myself seriously LOLing too. No wonder it's being turned into a movie! COMPANY It is extremely funny, and Semple has a way of combining a technologically savvy, ice-cool wit with a stealthy ability to show gradually a character's warmer side. -- Tom Cox THE SUNDAY TIMES This is an extraordinary novel - a fresh, funny, perceptive voice, and an exhilarating read. GOOD BOOK GUIDE it's refreshing in its honesty and complexity -- Natasha Tripney THE OBSERVER Semple is a TV comedy writer, and the pleasures here are the pleasures of the best American TV: plot, wit and heart. It's refreshing to find a female misunderstood genius at the heart of the book, and a mother-daughter relationship characterised by unadulterated mutual affection. -- Justine Jordan THE GUARDIAN compulsively readable comedy... packed with wit, honesty and charm MUMSNET Refreshing, honest and witty, this novel about motherhood zips and fizzes along, from start to end -- Janine Cook THE INDEPENDENT '50 Best Beach Reads' Delivered from multiple perspectives through letters, telephone calls, magazine articles and emails, it is cleverly plotted and compulsively readable. -- Ian Wall PROPERTY WEEK Semple's exuberant tale is buoyed up by deft plotting and pitch-perfect characters, whose idiosyncrasies and wrong-headed interactions are by turns comic, tender and craven. Excellent stuff. -- James Urquhart FT This light relief on the Women's prize shortlist has warmth and bite in equal measure. Brilliant, troubled Bernadette - a visionary architect who's started a family but lost the plot - is a fantastic creation, and Semple's picaresque comedy, told through letters, emails and even a live blog, skewers the absurdities of American privilege while drawing a heartfelt portrait of mother-daughter love THE GUARDIAN I've been devouring the savagely funny Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. A TV comedy writer, Semple's wide array of targets include parenting, over-achievement, schoolgates rivalry, creativity, Seattle, Canadians, Microsoft, Antarctica and marital love... Semple is funny, smart and deeply touching -- Rowan Pelling THE DAILY TELEGRAPH Where'd You Go, Bernadette is my favorite novel so far this year. It's funnier than a season's worth of Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Justified episodes; it's also the most original and imaginative fiction I've read since The Invention of Hugo Cabret -- James Patterson NEW YORK TIMES ...this book is highly enjoyable. -- David Hebblethwaite FOLLOW THE THREAD ...wonderfully eccentric MUMSNET This is an extraordinary novel - a fresh, funny, perceptive voice, and an exhilarating read. GOOD BOOK GUIDE This novel, written in the form of emails, notes and phone calls, is original and funny and you'll learn a lot about Antarctica. -- Joanna Czechowska WOMAN An extremely funny and ultimately moving farce about a quirky American family falling apart over a holiday to Antarctica -- Alex von Tunzelmann EVENING STANDARD A dazzling comic novel about a misunderstood architect. It's an eccentric and brilliantly accomplished story with a real screenplay quality to it -- Viv Groskop THE OBSERVER My happy summer holiday book was the funny, quirky and surprisingly moving Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. It's the kind of book you read and want to buy for friends -- Alison Starling THE GUARDIAN