Saturday, November 3, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

First, I would like to link to my book group's Anne of Green Gables review, which is largely my review ;), posted here.

Ok, Bernadette...
This was also a book group book and, in fact, it was recommended to us by a non-book group member!  I am posting my separate review here because I expect that a lot of the Desert Girls will have a lot to say about this book, separate from my thoughts.

I really really really enjoyed this book.  I FLEW through the first half... as my bath got cold.  Bernadette is a sort of mixed media book, using letters, emails, transcripts, etc. to tell the story.  There is a little bit of narration by Bee (daughter) throughout the first 2/3 or so, and then quite a bit more narration in the latter portion.  The Desert Girls recently read Wife 22, which was also a mixed-media book, but Bernadette took the concept and, really, showed the world how it should be done.

The book is touted and/or implies that it is a mystery.  Bernadette has disappeared and we must discover where she went.  This is not a particularly accurate description.  Bernadette does disappear, but not until more than halfway through and then... well, you're not really unsure about where she went.  You don't know for certain, but you can piece it together pretty well.

Instead, the book is really a wonderfully told story about a rather dysfunctional family (aren't they all), with a mother (Bernadette) who is a genius hermit former architect, the daughter (Bee) who is a brilliant young girl with a medical history and a love of life, and the father (Elgie) who is a workaholic genius microsoft project head who loves his family, if from a distance.  Blech, sounds boring the way I just did that.  Trust me, it's not.

The characters are quirky, crazy, relatable, totally un-relatable, enraging, off-putting, loving, spiteful, and the complete heart of the story.  Semple does not describe her characters in the traditional sense; rather, she provides enough information to give you an outline, and a bevy of personality traits for the reader to fill in the details.  The story is less the point, focusing instead on the development of the characters and their character.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bernadette, and I highly recommend.  What made the book not perfect was the ending, which sort of dropped, just a little, in its intrigue.  The resolution was just a little less climactic than I would have hoped.  But it did not detract from the book as a whole, and it did not leave me feeling frustrated... just a little less than perfectly satisfied.

Highly recommend.
FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

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