Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Good to see you guys are back! Or, shall I say, it’s good to be back. Starting my Masters program has been one hell of an adventure and while I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette? almost three weeks ago, it’s taken me this long to get the post up.

I structured things a bit differently this time around. My lovely friend, Leona, and I decided it would be fun to read the book together and then write about it. We ended up having SO much to say within our email exchanges that coming up with a way to condense it without spoilers was perplexing for us. We compromised and decided to post a brief review, followed by abridged versions of our emails, separated by part and containing lots of spoilers. For those of you who have read the book, let us know if you agree or disagree with our thoughts! For those of you who haven’t, here’s the review. . . .

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A witty story from start to finish, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is filled with elaborate, bizarre circumstances with characters that are utterly ridiculous, but remarkably familiar. You’ll find yourself at once giggling, fuming, and gasping all in the same chapter — so be careful where you read it! With a narrative pace delivered through a combination of emails, newsletters, and various documents, it’s one of the more fun epistolary novels I’ve read since The Princess Diaries series. The drama, snark, and unexpected revelations will keep you on your toes, with the ending delivering feel-good reader satisfaction.

Pick it up and be sure to come back to visit our spoiler-ridden comments below and engage with us!

 

Part One

Sabrina

I think her writing is fantastic. She’s funny and witty but there’s so much beneath the surface. It’s like Desperate Housewives but lighter on the outside, if that makes sense? I especially love Audrey’s character. She’s hilariously bitchy. Soo-Lin annoys me a lot, but Audrey makes up for it. On an unrelated note, I have watched 11 episodes of Cake Boss today with no signs of stopping. It’s a problem. Have I started reading things for my actual classes? Nope. Bigger problem.

Leona

I think I agree with your Desperate Housewives take on this — nearly everyone (except maybe Bee? Time will tell) is dysfunctional and at first I didn’t really like it, to be honest. But the backstabbing and overreacting really culminated in the Prospective Parent Brunch and the ensuing fight afterward, and the ridiculous and hypocritical nature of it all really won me over. Audrey’s such a colossal jerk and it’s amazing to watch her dismiss and ignore her personal problems while she drives her own perfect-parent agenda down everyone’s throat. But Bernadette isn’t much better, and I think that might be what Bee is there for; she’s the one who picks up on the positive things about her mother, the one who gives her more humanity. (Side note: I see your Cake Boss and raise you the gaping void of publishing Tumblrs.)

Part Two

Sabrina

Sod it, I really like this woman! lol

“BOARS HEAD FINEST DELI MEATS SERVED HERE. The moment I saw that, I knew I’d never see him again.”

“I’ve moved to a state that neighbors Idaho. And any life that might still be left inside me kind of goes poof.”

She’s funny without even trying to be because I bet you she’s serious as all hell with those lines!

Okay. The bunny story blew me away. Am I liking this book a little bit too much? Yes I think it’s crazy that she made SUCH a big deal about her house being destroyed and that she emphasizes that moment rather than her miscarriages as what first tore her apart. But I understand SO DEEPLY her hatred for a city that’s so “fake community” and where the people seem rude or plastic. Moving can take a toll on you in some seriously harsh ways — I would know from my move back to India in high school. That story about Sailor the bunny, that just left me with the book in my hands staring at the ceiling and contemplating humans and that poor little bunny. “Without anyone attending to him, he had gone feral.” It’s so true. Living alone and basically just talking to myself all day long has been driving me slightly crazy. The worst part is that when people do call to chat, I can’t get rid of them fast enough. I don’t want to be left unattended but it’s been long enough that I can’t bear to be attended to. “Come at me, even in love, and I’ll scratch the hell out of you.” I get it. I really do. [Note: I have been living alone for four weeks now and am a lot less feral and a lot more friendly. I just don’t have patience with phone calls.]

Leona

You picked up on a lot of the things that stuck out to me, including the funny moments. I do agree that this book has grown on me. Despite her name, Bernadette is no saint, but the way this story unravels has really drawn me in!

I think the letter from Paul Jellinek at the end of this part really hits home: “If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.” I think that, in Bernadette’s case, this has definitely been achieved. I felt the same when I was living in Incheon. The expat lifestyle there was really different and it frustrated me that I couldn’t talk to many people about the things that mattered to me (like books or languages). It was only when I started participating in a weekly open mike night where people read stories or sang that I realized that kind of self-expression, and that kind of creative community, was what I had been dearly missing.

Part Three

Sabrina

I fucking hate Soo-Lin. That is all I have for this part.

Leona

Soo-Lin is her own special brand of meddling, yeah. Unfortunately, I think Elgin is a bit too receptive to her especially given how much easier she’s been making his job. Her VAV sounds ridiculous! What kind of place uses acronyms like CRUSH and TORCH? I do like that she’s so snarky with Audrey, though. (Side note: I totally laughed out loud when Audrey said she didn’t care about this Ted guy and his lectures. Amazing.)

The FBI letter and revelations about Manjula really shook me! Soo-Lin is whispering in his ear about VAV, but I think the reality of Bernadette’s actions are really what would drive Elgin to seek professional help for her. I have a feeling he won’t confront her properly about this, though, if the scene at the Space Needle restaurant is any indication. (That was really bad timing on his part; it’s no wonder he didn’t get the discussion he wanted.) Maybe Bernadette disappears because he decides to call 911 on her and have her involuntarily held?

I race on to Part Four.

Parts Four & Five

Sabrina

Currently struck with a crazy bout of insomnia . . . so I read ahead and stopped myself at Part Six. All I can say is, holy cow. It’s all so crazy absurd but I’m entirely sucked in and even though Bernadette has some serious personal quirks, foibles, and problems, I sympathize with her. She and Audrey are my favorite characters. I’ll go more into detail when you give me your daily feedback. 🙂

Ugh. Must get sleep soon. 😦 I think I pulled a muscle in my thigh and it’s killing me.

Leona

Ha ha! I laugh at your reading ahead (I’ve been holding back my urges to), not your insomnia (which gets a sincere 😦 ). I hope the thigh muscle starts feeling better; maybe give it a rest for a few days, work on other muscle groups?

I’m working into Part Six now. I was right about Elgin wanting to commit her! Pretty surprised by Audrey, but she was hit by a number of revelations about her son and herself. I’m pretty unimpressed with Soo-Lin. Her involvement in things has caused some serious complications, and she has the gall to whine about actions she decisively took?

I’m really interested to see if Bee can find out what happened to Bernadette in Antarctica. I’m thinking they actually find her somehow. I really didn’t expect a narrative arc like this book’s, where you get close to finding the missing character. I expected it to be more like Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart, where the main character tries to find his missing love but really ends up wondering profoundly about the moments before her disappearance and the gap she left.

Part Six

Sabrina

Just finished the book because, as usual, I have had an interrupted night’s sleep and apparently 6 a.m. is a great time to be wide awake and restless. Hooray. Part Six was interesting and overwhelming. I both appreciated and strongly disliked Elgie. I have a huge personal problem with anything related to the topic of cheating; I just can’t bear it and I have a very hard time forgiving or understanding motives of relationship cheaters. So Elgie quickly moved to the bottom of the barrel for me in this book. Still, his talk with Bee and his enthusiasm for finding Bernadette, paired with his realization and acceptance that his daughter and wife may not want to return to him, made me feel for him. I’m not pardoning his behavior but I can’t say he’s a bad character.

Leona

Boo, sorry to hear you weren’t able to sleep this morning.

I agree that I find Elgin’s character really difficult to like because of his cheating, but I saw the evidence that he saw his actions as a mistake that he was willing to take responsibility for, while still proving his love for and commitment to Bee and Bernadette. On the cruise, he eventually treats his daughter like an ally and when they work together, they achieve what they hoped to accomplish. I liked everything that lead to Bernadette’s discovery — the clues they collected, the risk they took to steal a boat, the reunion of mother and daughter.

I really like that Part Six is only told from Bee’s perspective; I think this makes the previously parts more of her “book” to me, as if it’s an artifact of an event that actually happened. Also, how funny was it that she got seasick, just like her mother? The descriptions of this were really palpable; I really felt like I was being rocked back and forth!

Part Seven

Sabrina

Part Seven. . . . The letter. The first half of the letter felt plot-based again. Bernadette finally tells all. It’s a crazy story but believable at the same time because, hey, it’s Bernadette. The second part of the letter is where I warmed to her more than ever. “If he hasn’t ditched her by the time I return, have no fear, I will swat her away myself.” I loved that line because it had forgiveness, strength, humor, and so much faith in her relationship. She came across as a person who had been badly beaten down and lost her way but was finally back on track. She accepted her faults, she identified her problems, she showed she could change her mind about people, and she really came through as a wife and mother. Sometimes people need a sharp change of place and pace to see things clearly. And look! Underneath all that crazy, she’s really just kind of a badass woman. I love it.

Leona

Bernadette’s letter is the perfect denouement! Antarctica agrees with her completely and imbues her with a new creative flame and the hindsight to realize her past mistakes. She even gets her ego back — how hilariously hypocritical that she reflects on her own genius in agreeing (?!) to the Antarctica trip, to unwittingly training herself for overwinter survival? (“I knew I was up to something,” she writes.) She immediately makes decisions to change her family’s life for the better, and even Galer Street gets something good in the bargain (though it looks as though Soo-Lin will be out of luck, if Bernadette has anything to say about it). It was immensely satisfying to see her shake off her anxiety and be able to grab control of her life again.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  

Recommendation Rate 

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