KayKay #CRB5 Review #49 Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple


My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

This book has been favorably reviewed several times on Cannonball, and I have downloaded the sample several times.  However, I always delete it without reading it.  I finally got around to reading the sample,and I also read the sample for ‘Attachments’ by Rainbow Read.  Both stories used emails in the style of writing.  I ended up buying the Bernadette book, and here is what I thought….


Bernadette Fox is out of her element.  She’s is an extraordinary character (genius architect, chic, cool mom, etc.) in the midst of average “Soccer Moms”.  She looks down on them, while they look down on her.  I loved the crescendo of events that end in a mud slide and chaos during a school presentation at a parents house.  Bernadette was on the brink of success in architecture, has a unfortunate run-in with a neighbor (who ends up destroying the house that she built) and runs off to Seattle.  After several miscarriages, she finally gets pregnant and gives birth to Bee (officially named Balakrishna because she was born blue and with a heart condition).  Bernadette makes a deal with God to stop creating if he saves Bee, Bee lives and Bernadette stops creating.  Although Bernadette tries to hold it together she eventually disappears (after the mud slide incident)- hence the name of the book.  Bee eventually finds her, and Bernadette finds her way back to creating.

Plot Score: 4/5

Characters and Relationships

Bernadette- “I never took them, because the one time I did, they left me nauseous and not feeling like myself. (I know, that should have been a selling point.  What can I say?  I’ve grown accustomed.))  I also grew accustomed to her character.  Delightfully quirky.  I shared her experience of people telling her “Tell us what you really think”.

The Gnats- This hilarious group of parents is overly concerned about appearances.  In the search to make their school a better place they were looking for the ‘right’ type of parent: “Judging from the contents of her shopping cart- imported cheese, organic raspberries, fruit wash spray- she is the exact quality of parent we need at Galer Street.”

Audrey (Head Gnat)- She starts out as an annoying protagonist to Bernadette’s slowly burning crazy.  But she redeems herself in the end and tries to better herself and her drug dealing son.  At one point there is a legal document “STATE OF WASHINGTON vs. Audrey Faith Griffin” and just the title of it made me giddy with anticipation of what Audrey had gotten herself into.  She had a wonderful revelation in the book and really turned herself around, helping Bernadette escape and improving herself.

Characters Score: 5/5

World Building

I enjoy it when someone is passionate about their work, and it defies current standards and raises the entire perception of the work to a higher level.  This is how Ayn Rands architect worked, and this is how Bernadette works.  I loved the descriptions of her buildings and her creative drive.  She builds two fantastic houses, and buys a third, but doesn’t fix it up:

“All day and night it cracks and groans, like it’s trying to get comfortable but can’t, which I’m sure has everything to do with the huge amount of water it absorbs any time it rains.”

“Once a week, the gardener weed-whacked under the rug”- when I first read a reference to gardening in the house, I thought I missed something, then I realized that the house was being taken over by nature.

Seattle also takes on a role in this book.  Bernadette hates Seattle the way Marcus loves San Francisco in Little Brother.  I like it when the author can make the city an integrated part of the book (not just a list of site seeing points- Shambling Guide, I’m thinking of you).

I also loved the look inside working at Microsoft.  One of the gnats becomes Elgie’s (Bernadette’s husband), assistant (and eventually his baby’s mama) – and she is sending emails to Audrey about Elgie and popular he is (due to his Ted presentation around AI).  Audrey’s response is hilarious- “I don’t give a fig about Ted.  I don’t know who he is and I don’t care what he says during this talk you refuse to shut up about”

World Building Score: 4/5

Life Lessons (fka Bigger Meaning)

Individual Style- “Some people are extraordinary and should be treated as such” (Reminded me of the Ayn Rand themes of the importance of the individual)

Never stop creating

“The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be”

“I don’t know if community is something you do or don’t believe in”

Life Lessons Score:  3/5


I really enjoyed the format of the book.  Various emails, letters and brief recollections (from Bee) make up this book.  As I mentioned in the intro, I had read the sample for Attachments, which also contains emails as part of the narrative.  I must say (without reading all of Attachments) that Semple did the better job of pulling off the formatting.

The style of the writing was delightful.  The dialog was smart and witty and I enjoyed reading it.  I felt like it had the hilarious rhythm of a David Sedaris book, but the undertones of Ayn Rand.

Style Score : 4/5

Final Thoughts?

– 1 Bonus Points for the cover

– Bernadette’s hilarious rants: Craftsman houses (“the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.”), Seattle intersections “Whoever laid out this city never meet a four way intersection they didn’t turn into a five-way intersection.”, Buca Di Beppo: “I hated my life enough without having to drive past a Buca di Beppo four times a day”

Total Score and Recommendation

21/25- I highly recommend this book, it is delightful.

One thought on “KayKay #CRB5 Review #49 Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

  1. R September 1, 2014 at 3:35 pm Reply

    Hi! Love this review. I just finished the novel and I always like to come up with themes. If you had to name several detailed themes in this novel, what would they be? and it would be great if you provided an explanation!

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