I have just finished ‘Where’d you go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple and absolutely loved it! If relatively light hearted and often laugh out loud is what you are looking for please please please read this book.
Written from the perspective of 14 year old Balakrishna [don’t ask] ‘Bee’ Branch, heavily mixed with an epistolary format including letters, emails, faxes and hand written notes, she depicts the trials and tribulations of her life in Seattle with her Microsoft genius of a dad and her artist come menace to society mother. It is her mother, Bernadette, who does just as the title suggests and disappears. It turns out that the book I was reading was billed as what Bee had created when piecing together what the crikey had happened to her mother as things went from strange to ridiculous, in every sense of the words!
From Seattle to Antarctica this book is full of sometimes stereotypical but nearly always funny characters, some you want to know and others not so much!
I inhaled this book and feel it falls in the category of ‘perfect holiday read*’ without being full of wishy washy** romance and completely impractical perfect lives!
While it does make light of the subject, Bernadette clearly suffers from a pretty severe social anxiety disorder which, unmonitored and untreated, has left her and her family in quite a unique living arrangement. I think it is nice to have a character that is clearly flawed depicted in quite a positive light by the end of the book, working through her issues and bringing her slightly dysfunctional family back together.
There is a section in the book that really caught my attention where Bee and her father, Elgie, are discussing how the human brain is constantly evolving and how it is specifically a ‘discounting mechanism’, so you get use to your surroundings and therefore learn to live with things. The example Bee uses to check she fully understand is this:
‘The first time I walked into Kennedy’s house [..] it had a horrible Kennedy-house smell because her mother is always frying fish. I asked Kennedy, What’s that gross smell? And she was, like, what smell?’
Elgie goes on to explain how this is for survival so that people notice changes in the surrounding and not just get overpowered with the everyday occurrences.
It is the little things like this that made me think that this book had a hidden intelligence to it that appeals to those looking for a light read but still want some substance. In fact, I am desperate for some of my friends to read this book so I can annoy them with topics like this!
Apparently a lot of talk about this book has come from the author’s descriptions of Seattle. It is very rarely painted in a positive light in this book but I am still adamant I will get there at some point. My reasons are thus:
I have been advised by a friend who has lived there it may well be my spiritual home. Breweries. Checked shirts. Weird and wonderful indie bands. The setting of the best and worst hospital drama known to man (FYI Grey’s Anatomy). Ferry boats. Not to mention I actually have family who live there! One day…
One last thing before I go too far and start handed out copies of this book to people for free (it’s like the Caitlin Moran obsession all over again – *flashbacks*), the author, Maria Semple, an inhabitant of Seattle (as referenced on the back of the book), spent 15 years in LA working as a TV writer working on Ellen, Saturday Night Live and the hilarious, and potentially my all time favourite comedy, Arrested Development! She is clearly a winner of this little thing we call life. In my head she is a real life version of Liz Lemon, the Tina Fey character in 30 Rock. Nobody burst this bubble. Please.
*Please note I am not on holiday and just doing my usual day job; answer calls, greet people, sort mail, read book.
** Technical term.