THR Beach Read of the Week: 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette'
TV-writer-turned-novelist Maria Semple's quirky comedic tale about a daughter's search for her brilliant and eccentric mother who disappears on the eve of a vacation to Antarctica is the perfect antidote to the dog days of August.
This is the book August has been waiting for: Fun, clever, a little quirky, wholly original.
Hey we loved Gone Girl as well and sure we understand the appeal of Fifty Shades, but Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is the perfect comedic aperitif to a summer of thrillers and erotica.
The Olympics are over. Fall TV doesn’t kick in for a couple of weeks. Pop culture feels like its on vacation. Where’d You Go is just the thing liven up the dog days of August.
Check out its awesome book trailer:
It’s described as—and let me be upfront and say no simple description does justice to the fun originality of the story—a dazzling satire about the perils of hyperactive modern parenting, what technology does to the family and a quirky daughter’s search for her beloved misanthropic mother Bernadette,” by publisher Little Brown.
That’s a good start but it leaves out the inventive structure of the novel, which retells the story through emails, police reports and notes interspersed with first-hand commentary from daughter Bee. In fancy terms this is called an epistolary novel but that’s really on old-fashioned word for a story told in letters. This is so much fresher and modern than “epistolary” sounds.
The mixed documents Semple uses pace the story along nicely, moving it forward with zip. And there’s a voyeuristic thrill at poking through the private papers of someone (even a fictional person). Who among us hasn’t sneaked a peak at someone’s email or diary? Reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette has the illicit thrill of eavesdropping on someone’s life.
Semple, a former TV writer (Arested Development) talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how the book grew out of her initial unhappiness and loneliness after moving to Seattle and seeing an earlier novel fall apart. She found herself endlessly complaining to her L.A. friends about how much she hated her life when one suggested she channel that angst into a novel.
“I realized this toxic brew of self-pity, defensiveness and artistic paralysis while humiliating to admit to was actually kinda funny. “
She also revealed how she hit on the book’s clever epistolary structure.
“I started writing first person in Bernadette's voice right after but it was just too strong and whiny, too crazy and unpleasant.”
Then she hit on the idea of Bernadette having an assistant, a virtual assistant (since she didn’t like people much), she would email instructions while confessing things about her life.
“As soon as I wrote the first email something on the page crackled. I answered back in one line response which I thought had really funny comic timing. Then I just thought let's try to do this whole thing with documents and letters and things like that. That's why I got really excited when I realized it would be an epistolary novel because I loved the thought of just peering in on some one’s life. Can you imagine if you saw someone's report card on the street wouldn't it be the best thing that ever happened to you? Overhearing things, reading things you're not supposed to be reading is just one of life's great thrills. So I'm very happy to be able to put a whole book together and give people that vicarious thrill.
Buzz on the book has been strong and well deserved, with positive reviews coming in from all corners.
Plus, Semple managed to get an impressive list of folks to blurb for her: Jonathan Franzen, Kate Atkinson and Jonathan Evison.
Add our voice to the praise. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a winner.