An Epistolary Mystery || Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Review

Initial Thoughts: 

Actually enjoyed this! I wouldn’t even have minded it if it was mostly Bernadette’s POV either, since she’s a hoot.


by Maria Semple
Little, Brown Books, August 2012
Contemporary fiction, humor
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces–which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades.

I actually had not meant to write a review for this book, but then I also watched the movie, and sort of kind of realized how much I appreciate reading epistolary novels from time to time. And this one really got me inspired to write epistolary fanfiction (which I’m close to finishing at over 70,000 words, WHAT IS THAT?!).

So anyway. About Where’d You Go, Bernadette and the movie tie-in…

The novel’s style is a mixture of emails and documents pertaining to Bernadette Fox, an agoraphobic ex-architect who goes missing in the beginning of the novel. Most of the story is told through retrospective looks at the emails and documents, as well as a narrative by Bernadette’s daughter, Bee. It’s not a style I’ve been reading lately, but it makes for a refreshing one, and the story was riveting enough for me to really follow.

I loved Bernadette’s voice. She does suffer from anxiety and it’s clear there’s a lot of issue that she’s facing. She isn’t, however, completely off-kilter. Just enough for people to think she is, but not enough to garner a trip to the loony bin. But the book takes this misconception and exacerbates the situation to the extreme.

I did love the depth of the satire and the way the story was told. I even loved the exchanges between Soo-Lin and Audrey, though the book does get into territory that I was glad didn’t make it to the movie adaptation.

Which, speaking of the movie, I could honestly watch the entire intervention scene multiple times. But I am partial to the fact that they got Cate Blanchett to play the lead, and Billy Crudup kind of pulled his own. It’s an underrated movie, that’s for sure, though I liked that the movie was streamlined to be more attuned to the family getting back together, so no shenanigans with Soo-Effing-Lin in this case.

The only thing I did wish the movie had was a bit of cohesion. A lot of the scenes seemed disjointed, and the pacing was off. Because of everything that’s happened, some of the humor that I found wild in the book disappeared in the screenplay. I did think the whole video essay was a nice touch, though.

4 out of 5 cookies!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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