This was the third book I read for my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge. You can view my progress here.
Spoiler alert: this book is hilarious. It’s not often I find a genuinely laugh-out-loud funny book that is both well written and entertaining from start to finish, but this is one of the rare ones.
Bernadette Fox is a gifted and well-respected architect who has been out of the game for over 10 years. Now a mother to Bee (real name Balakrishna) and wife to Microsoft wiz Elgie Branch, she lives in Seattle and busies herself with school runs and pickups, crippling anxiety and agoraphobia, and delegating her responsibilities to an unknown personal assistant in India.
When Bee cashes in on a promise made by her parents for a trip to Antarctica, Bernadette is less than thrilled. Stuck on a boat in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of strangers is her idea of a personal hell, but for the sake of her daughter she goes along with it. Until one day Bernadette goes missing.
Told through a series of letters, emails, faxes, notes and various other communications between Bernadette and other people, as well as Bee’s account of her investigation into her mother’s whereabouts, and the hilarious unravelling of Bernadette’s life.
What I liked most about this book is Bernadette. She’s smart and funny, and an absolute loon. Her hilarious complaints about life are something that all of us can empathise with, and despite magnifying her deteriorating mental health, present her as relatable in the way she deals with the insurmountable obstacles in her life. She is, simply, Bernadette; larger than life but stuck in limbo. She’s eccentric, neurotic, narcissistic and loudly opinionated; in short, she’s a little of everyone. She loathes the parents at her daughters private school, and they her; she’s sarcastic and intelligent, and is content with her own little bubble. I probably liked her more because she very much reminded me of, well, me.
In terms of the narrative structure, I applaud Semple for the way she handled the development of characters voices through the different mediums – both successful and ridiculously funny. Whilst notoriously hard to do well, the juxtaposition of narrative styles works well and makes for an entertaining read: the bitchy PTA mom gossiping through emails, the school administrator letters, Bernadette’s rambling emails to her online assistant, and especially Bee’s pre-pubescent voice of reason. Whilst the plot is completely ridiculous, it is somewhat believable and incredibly funny.
And the moral of the story was my absolute fave: the idea that sometimes you can have a complete meltdown and still come out stronger on the other side, with a whole new purpose and outlook on life. The best past of the whole novel.