February 26

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

“Your TED talk is ranked number 4 on the all time most watched TED talks yet you live with a woman who has no friends, destroys homes and falls asleep in stores”.  This is just one of the many great lines from Where’d You Go Bernadette which I plucked off the NY Times Best Seller list last month.

Talk about a little book that ticks boxes.  It is fresh, clever, modern, real, light but dark all at the same time.  I would say it is perfect book club fodder and if you haven’t got it on your reading list right now,  there is a serious problem which you need to address straight away.  Now I am not saying you have to love it like I did but you have to at least read it and have the discussion.  I implore you.

The book is written by Maria Semple who when not writing novels, writes for US comedy shows including Arrested Development and Saturday Night Live and you can tell.   She is clearly a very clever and witty individual and although the book isn’t laugh out loud funny, there is an ever present sense of humour and irony that makes it what it is.  Semple has mastered the fine art of subtle sledging with clever digs at topics ranging from corporate America, private schools, religion and the pressures and veneers of contemporary society.  The absurdities of everyday life are highlighted in the most delightful way…I mean are people really being measured on the ranking of their TED talk?

The story centres around an architect Bernadette Fox who in her early years blew away her contemporaries with some of the most ingenious, creative and ground breaking work.  She was “green” before anyone know what it meant to be green and recognised with various prizes including the prestigious $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant.  With her IT entrepreneur and TED talking husband, Elgie Branch by her side, they were a dream couple with the world at their feet.

After a few set backs, Bernadette’s life plans are put to the side and she morphs into an angry and anti social mum lost in suburbian Seattle with no friends or ambition.  She shuts herself off from society to the point where her only friend in life is her virtual assistant; Manjula from Delhi Virtual Assistants International.  In her own words, she becomes a menace to society.  In fact there is a chapter called “Menace to Society”.

The book is written in a series of letters and documents ultimately put together by Bernadette’s daughter – the delightful Bee Branch.  I found the structure a little frustrating at times when I just wanted to unravel the story faster but in the end I think it brings a whole other dimension to the book.

I loved all of the characters in this story but need to make special mention of Bernadette’s neighbour, Audrey Griffen who is doing her best to maintain the appearance of being a respectable mother and pillar of society.  As her own problems unravel, Bernadette starts looking like the normal one.  Isn’t that always the way.

And that is my 2 cents.