the wonderful world of veena.

06 April 2014

book update: where'd you go, bernadette? [maria semple]

  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Americanah by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Creating Room to Read by John Wood
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
I don't know about you, but I always enjoy a fun, quirky read that is also well-written. The combo doesn't always happen, but it's rather enjoyable when it does, and Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is one of those books that manages to pull it off.

I first heard about this book maybe last summer, and it was on almost every list I found for book club suggestions for the fall, so I added it to my list for this year. Everything I heard about the book indicated a hilarious and poignant read.

And for most of the book, it did not disappoint. It breezed through and told the story of Bernadette, a fiercely brilliant but completely agoraphobic woman living in Seattle, told through the eyes of her teenage daughter Bea. Through emails, notes, and other documents, Bea pieces together her mother's life, from her days as a brilliant up-and-coming architect in Los Angeles, to her avoidance of society in Seattle and the outsourcing of her life to a virtual assistant in India, and finally to her sudden disappearance just days before a scheduled family trip to Antarctica.

The reader learns about all of Bernadette's quirks, including her feuds with fellow mothers at Bea's school and her insistence that the family purchase and live in a rundown former Catholic school for girls. But because Bea tells the story, we also learn about Bernadette's love for her family and the lengths she will go to in order to make her daughter happy. In many ways, Bea humanizes Bernadette's character and keeps her from seeming completely insane.

While the first half definitely went a lot faster than the second half, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book. It was a fast read, and although it seemed light at times, it actually touched on a number of important issues, including mental health, adultery, tiger moms, work-life balance, and the importance of family. There was one tangential storyline that I didn't really like, but Semple tried her best to resolve it in a way that would make the reader happy [and if you've read it, you'll know what I'm referring to].

I also liked that although Bea narrated the story, Semple used a variety of sources to bring it to fruition. I always like books where chapters are told from different characters' points-of-view, and I liked this one for the inclusion of documents from surrounding characters to show all the sides of the story. It's nice every now and then to have something different.

I really liked this one, and I would definitely recommend reading it if you're in the market for something fun and quirky and quick.

currently reading: The Round House [Louise Erdrich]
next on the list: The Great Railway Bazaar [Paul Theroux]

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