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.
©2012 Maria Semple (P)2012 Hachette Audio
Short, Simple, No Spoilers
Bernadette was a ground-breaking, award winning architect, now married with a daughter. The book follows the events of how she dropped out of the public eye including work, friends, and the majority of people; possibly agoraphobic. Told mostly through emails and phone conversations, the conflict-avoidant heroine struggles to keep her sanity. Good choice for a book club circle.
I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. It is quirky, with a great mix of over the top and realism. It is so well written that characters' actions seem explicable while not always anticipatable.
It is, at its heart, the story of a woman who struggles with her place in the world as a mother, a wife, a "genius", and a member of a community. Her story is set in a charming narrative that is almost comical but always feels real and fresh.
I usually love dark and complex books so I don't know why I picked this - maybe it reminded me of Nick Hornby a little - but I'm very glad I did.
It is in the top 20. Great story and well told.
I am not sure I have ever read a book like it. Told from the point of view of the daughter (mainly) the story unfolds in an interesting way that I can't explain without giving away a lot.
Her voice and expressiveness was great. Her voice for the daughter was childish and as the parents mature (except when the adults were acting childish).
Bernadette, you're a Mess!
Fun story. Long but worth it.
Besides incessant listening to audiobooks, I also read on my Kindle at night, birdwatch, garden (roses, daylilies), and do genealogy.
You know, it is very difficult to continue against the current. Some times it is so strong it tips your boat. What is it with me that I can't enjoy this book? It isn't even a mild dislike--I can't stand it. I have gone back to it three times and each time, I cringe. It is fascinating how much I dislike it.
Bernadette is just plain silly and insensitive and unbelievable. Is it just terminal quirkiness or mental illness? I know she is supposed to be creative and clever and funny, but it just doesn't come off that way for me. And the tirade against Seattle? I think you would have had to live there to get your laughs from that. A tirade which goes on way too long. Like a comedy routine.
To make it all worse, I have no fondness for this narrator at all. So, there you have it. My rant about a book everyone else seems to love. Almost everyone.
Addicted to Audible!
You need to suspend the idea that this book has any resemblence to reality to enjoy it. It's absurd, silly, ridiculous and fun. Its not well written or socially redeemable, its just junk food for the ears and mind!The emails are funny and I loved the way they were performed of course they were over the top. That is what a beach read is all about!!!
I might try another Kathleen Wilhoite book, but I wouldn't read another Maria Semple book.
I think she did a great job, actually. The characters are just so annoying that I became irritated with everything about this book.
Frustration. After several hours of listening, I just kept wondering when the plot would ever begin.
I just don't care about bickering Seattle socialites and their prep school woes. Nothing about the storyline or the characters grabbed my attention, so I finally had to give up listening.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
What makes this book stand out among similarly themed novels is the structure -- a modern day epistolary novel that relies on E-mails, reports, transcripts, notes, faxes, etc., and yes, even old fashioned snail mail letters. The writers and addressees of these messages are a variety of people, so we get a kaleidoscopic picture of Bernadette, the central character, and the four other main satellite characters, from many points of view.
The question is, does this work better in print, or in audio? As much as I liked listening to the book, I have to admit there were times I was confused about who was writing. If you zone out for a second and that second coincides with the From and To lines, you're in a bit of trouble. In print, you just look up and double check. Going back 30 seconds in audio, not so convenient, if you're driving or have to reach into your pocket to take out your cell phone.
But that is a minor quibble in an otherwise very funny and minorly insightful look at the ramifications of choosing motherhood over art and career, dealing with (unwanted) success and (perceived) failure, living with neurosis and mental illness, and finding your true place in the world while trying at the same time to be part of a family. And dealing with unimaginable horrors like five-way intersections, invasive blackberry vines, and game show hosts.
One of the genius decisions Maria Semple made in drawing her characters was to make none of them wholly sympathetic or wholly antipathetic. Bernadette is seriously annoying, Audrey is not as evil as you think, Bee is no saint. That makes them all seem so much more human, even when drawn as broadly, for comic effect, as Audrey and Soo-Lin. So, choose a favorite? Maybe another way to phrase this is, by the end, I love them all as characters.
Voices. That's the most common answer to this question. Whether that's good or bad is open to interpretation and matters of taste. They all work, but Bee's voice, which is the most used because she narrates all the in-between bits and the Antarctic trip that makes up most of the last couple of hours, can be too much to take in big doses. I hate to criticize Wilhoite for this, having had the exact opposite critique of the narrator of The Hunger Games -- I think she nails Bee's voice, but it's just too much to take in big doses.
Bernadette, obviously, Just say one short phrase, any phrase, and then sit back and listen to her rant and rave endlessly about the subject, and digress into myriad other subjects that get her goat (and then finish up her dish, since she'll lose her appetite ranting away). Well, that's a big part of this book, Bernadette's skewed world view, that's the love-it or hate-it part which most people, myself included, seem to love. The only problem would be getting her to go out to dinner, since she's agoraphobic and now resides in Antarctica.
Narrator was way too over-the-top. The sample listen should have warned me....imagine that excited, high-pitch voice squeaking in your ear for nearly 10 hours!
How did she not detract from the book?
I guess it would be the main one, Bea...she was given the highest of the high-pitches.
Held my attention from the beginning. A fun listen. The storyline follows the mysterious disappearance of a mother and wife of an intellectual, earth-aware, family. But the real mystery is trying to figure out what is making the eccentric Bernadette tick.
Anglophile. Prefer only British fiction and mysteries. Good translations of Italian, too.
Yes. It is humorous, but also has a bite to it. The central characters are developed and fully formed.
Bea, the daughter, was delightful, as was the mother.
Probably not. I did not like how her voice went up and down so much and I kept having to turn the volume down, I thought she went overly-dramatic at times and it distracted from the prose. I don't want a stage production.
I liked the mother's descriptive prose about coming alive in Antarctica.
It was wonderful the main character was a cutting edge architect and a woman.
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