Genre: Fiction, Humour, Chick Lit, Mystery
Author: Maria Semple
Rating: 2*5 / 5
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle – and people in general – has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence – creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.
What I disliked
Oh dear! I was in a mood for reading some chilled-out stuff with a dosage of humor and a kick-ass heroine thrown in the mix.
The summary of WWYGB got me hooked from the very start. What I gleaned through the synopsis was- WWYGB has a much nicer female version of Howard Roark and a juicy, little mystery about disappearance.
It turned out to be a drab-version of Gone Girl.
I hoped for a smooth ride (accomplished heroine of suspense+over-all wackiness, what’s not there to like), but WWYGB showed me some red-flags:
The characterization of Bernadette Fox herself is a very very caricature of a mad-genius-in-domesticity.
I tried very hard to like her ’cause in the previous life, she was a kick-ass architect, enterprising, intelligent and creative. But throughout the novel, she appeared shallow,narcissist and whining.
She has a problem with repetition.
She repeatedly calls out Seattle a horrible place ( don’t know why cause I loved Seattle in Sleepless in Seattle), tags her neighbors as gnats, being an architect doesn’t show any initiative to repair their dilapidated house and swats away the very mention of her husband’s mistress while retaining the cheating husband by herself.
This last point left me scratching my head.
It seemed, the intention was to model Bernadette Fox as a derailed-feminist icon or some sort.
Then how come she forgets and forgives her husband Elgin Branch so easily, even if he shagged his admin Soo-Lin and made her pregnant?
I have a lots of sympathy for jilted admin Soo-Lin Lee-Segal and thought there should be a spin-off a la Tess of the d’Urbervilles, where an Asian woman struggling in Seattle to make ends meet and pregnant with a child born-out-of-wedlock.
Untreated mental trauma
Bernadette Fox suffered from PTSD, Postpartum depression, agoraphobia throughout 20 years but it irked me a lot that the book gave so little importance to- finding out root causes of mental ailments, instead of dishing out a quick-fix cure.
At the end, it was implied- Bernadette got bonkers because she had lots of free time at her hands and only re-engaging in meaningful work would cure her traumas.
With the absence of real shits, this seems like a rich people’s dilly-dallying.
Another of my pet peeve is- the daughter of Bernadette and Elgin Branch was growing up in a horrible, claustrophobic environment under the care of narcissist parents.
However, the author tried to sugar-coat by putting-up lovey-dovey family charades at every opportunity.
There is no doubt Maria Semple had done an impressive research of architecture, Antarctica, zodiac boats etc. But there was no need to pages-after-pages description of them.
It slowed down the pace of the book and felt boring AF. Surely it was the classic case of putting all your eggs in one-basket.
Also, who cares about how Microsoft works in such minute details? I mean, it seemed partly as paeans of the company.
Nonetheless, Bill Gates donates lots of money to build toilets, spread HIV awareness in India, so I should shut my mouth out of gratitude.
What I liked
I am a quote-hoarder and the book has some lovely, witty quotes that elicit chuckles.
You’re bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”
Getting into fights with people makes my heart race. Not getting into fights with people makes my heart race. Even sleeping makes my heart race!
People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.
Do you know how absolutely exotic it is that you haven’t been corrupted by fashion and pop culture? A month ago I mentioned Ben Stiller, and do you remember how you responded? “Who’s that?” I loved you all over again.
I like epistolary novels a lot and it has a large part dedicated to mail-exchanges. So that is a plus point.
Over-all Where’d You Go Bernadette is a strictly one-time read which is part easy-breezy and part-drag. Give it a read only if you care about such stuff.