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Title: Where’d You Go Bernadette?
Author: Maria Semple
Ratings: Book – 4/5 Movie – 4/5
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. Where’d You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter’s love for her mother.
The summary above really just covers the last third of the story. There are pretentious, overly suffocating school mothers, demanding neighbors, Microsoft and the city of Seattle. This story is so much more than a women’s disappearance—there’s everything that pushers her to that point, first.
I’ve had Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple on my TBR for years. I had heard how smart and funny it was from tons of people and always planned to read it. I gave it to my mom to read it first because she was looking for a book. She thought it was hilarious and continued to push me to read it, but it wasn’t until I saw the trailer for the Richard Linklater film starring Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, and Kristen Wiig, I finally picked it up. Well, I listened to it on audiobook in one day—I guess you could say I liked it.
The book is written in epistolary format through letters and emails, interspersed with prose from the perspective of Bee, Bernadette’s daughter. This is really Bee’s telling of this point in her life. Linklater did a tremendous job of taking this kind of format and compacting the most important moments of a pretty complicated narrative, especially when it comes to all the key components that go into Bernadette’s disappearance. We hear Bernadette using talk-to-text app to write emails, phone calls instead of emails, and in-person meetings instead of letters. My favorite was the use of a video profile done on Bernadette to explain her background as this celebrated architect and what made her become this eccentric mother on the verge of being classified agoraphobic.
The character of Bernadette just jumps off the page—her neuroses and all. She’s prickly, quick witted, and still grieving a past life of trauma and devastation. And everything comes to ahead just a few days before her family’s trip to Antarctica. Cate Blanchett was a perfect casting choice. She played Bernadette as irreverent as ever, but also brought a sense of vulnerability that gets lost in the book a little bit. Because the book is told from Bee’s perspective, we lose the small intimate moments that find their place in the film.
The movie doesn’t include some of the craziest parts of the book like the affair between Soo-Lin and Elgin or Bee going away to boarding school. Linklater made some cuts on the wacky journey the reader takes to find Bernadette, but its all for brevity and time. I also think Linklater decided to go the sentimental route rather than leaning to the side of satirical, but I think they both worked in their different ways.
I really enjoyed the book as well as the movie, maybe the book a little more. I don’t think another writer/director would have done a better job than Richard Linklater. If you do really the book, I don’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy the movie, too.