Thursday, 18 July 2013

Devouring Books: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Everyone who's awesome in Blogland (Ok, I can basically think of three people, but that's plenty, right?) has been enthusing about Where'd You Go, Bernadette, and when I went to the library to get True Grit I saw it in the award winning books section (Or something... Some non-shelfy part, anyway) and, well, I just don't know how to resist the advice of the awesome people of Blogland OR a cover that awesome. I don't. (The fact that I got two books out of the library and read both in a week when I have 200+ unread books at home is the reason I'm no longer going to the library, but that's another story.)

Despite the enthusings of said awesome bloggers, I somehow managed to miss the part where Bernadette is an epistolatory novel, told mainly in the form of notes, emails, letters and transcripts, and I doubt if I've mentioned this because I read books like this so rarely, but I LOVE IT WHEN BOOKS DO THAT! Seriously, I love watching a story unfold through tiny pieces of information from all different perspectives until you finally get a clear picture of everything that's happened. It's awesome.

So that, combined with the fact that the author wrote for Arrested Development (!!!) really made me very excited about the book from the start, and then it went and got all interesting, too. What I find the most interesting about it, is, since it's called Where'd You Go, Bernadette, you'd almost expect her to disappear early on in the book and for it to be about the search for her. Instead, and I think this was is better, she doesn't disappear until about 3/4 of the way through the book, and the thing you have to piece together (which is what her daughter, Bee, is trying to do with the whole book) is the why she went rather than the where she went. And I think this way, you care a lot more about finding Bernadette and where she did, in fact, go.

And I did totally care about Bernadette- she's an extremely flawed character and she does a lot of things I don't really approve of (and is SO. MEAN. about Canadians!) but in the end, it's difficult not to like her. She's funny in a sort of bitter, misanthropic way (so, the best way) and it becomes clear that a lot of the things other characters (MEAN characters) don't like about her, and things I wasn't necessarily thrilled with, stem from past traumas which have been truly damaging. I really feel for her, is what I'm saying, but my liking her isn't just based on sympathy, it's based on her actual awesomeness as a character.

Her daughter, Bee, is a lot easier to straightforwardly love, though, right up to the point where Bernadette goes missing when she becomes somewhat of a nightmare (albeit, kind of understandably). She also engages in some heroics near the end that redeem her basically completely in my eyes, which is why I can fairly easily say I love her. And then, there are all the other characters- flawed and horrible and then lovely and complicated and just extremely real in their complexity. Many of them are able to justify their actions to themselves, even if WE (who are essentially on Bernadette's side at all times) don't really approve of them, and isn't that just what people do? I know it's what I do at times. Actually, the majority of this book isn't so much 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' as 'Bitchy and Snobby Housewives of Seattle are Snobby and Bitchy', and this is excellent because I love hating characters almost as much as I love character redemption, and this book has both of those in bucketloads.

A final thought- what is it with authors including The Beatles in their books at the moment? Admittedly, I only have Eleanor and Park as my other example, but still it's like these authors are daring me not to like their book. It's like, 'oh, you're not entirely sure how you feel about Bernadette? Well, she knows all the words to Abbey Road so BAM.' And it totally, totally works- The Beatles are kind of a weak spot for me (as I can only assume they are for Rowell and Semple, too) so keep including lovely words about them, authors, and I will keep reading.

So obviously I can tell you're just dying to read Where'd You Go, Bernadette now, because THE BEATLES! SHE KNOWS THEY EXIST AND SHE MENTIONS THEM! but really and truly it's so very entertaining and funny and has a wicked awesome structure, WHILST at the same time it doesn't make your brain feel like it's turning to mush. Mostly it's just purely entertaining, but it's also very well written- every character has a distinctive voice and your view of pretty much all of them shifts the more you read. Basically it's awesome, and hey, you try resisting that cover. It's practically impossible.

Note: Can anyone think of any more modern books written in this format that won't make my brain feel mushy? I can think of some classics that are basically in letter form, but I'm thinking more with the emails and snippets of information and things. I need more of this in my life!

26 comments:

  1. I've seen this advertised on the tube and, of course, on many awesome blogs, but so far resisted reading it... I didn't know it was written in letter form either! This does make me more interested in reading it for sure.
    As for other books in this format, Jostein Gaarder's The Castle in the Pyrenees is told through email correspondence and it's really good!

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    1. I didn't resist reading this so much as I was being firm with myself and going 'READ THE BOOKS YOU OWN' but then I went to the library and it was there and yeah. Shit happens (OR good books happen!) It is way good :)

      And THANK YOU for the recommendation! I really really like Jostein Gaarder (Sophie's World FTW) so oooooh, interesting!

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  2. This sounds really cute. My favourite ever epistolary novel is Feeling Sorry for Celia which I was OBSESSED with when I was about 14. But I haven't read it for a long time so it might be shit....

    (this is a pointless comment)
    (just looked up Feeling Sorry for Celia on Amazon and this is a quote from the brainiac 1* reviewer: "i thought i`d give it one more try when it got even more boring than ever i can`t sit and read a WHOLE book of letters!")

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    1. I'm inclined to listen to you because the last book I read that you used to be obsessed with was I Capture The Castle and wooooooah, that book is awesome :) SO not pointless at all!

      (Wow, that reviewer sounds SO SMART. THE STORY IS TOLD THROUGH THE LETTERS DAMMIT)

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  3. This was definitely one of those "I don't get it" popular books for me. I liked the format a lot, but I just couldn't really like or cheer for any of the characters. I liked Bee the most, from what I remember, but everyone else kind of annoyed me and the whole situation was just so out-there...

    I'm not one of the awesome people of Blogland :( But I'm glad that you liked it!

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    1. Awwwww, don't lie, you're totally one of the awesome people of blogland! Just... with a slightly differing opinion on this book!

      I totally get not liking most of the characters, but I really really did get behind Bernadette- and I can't even explain why since she's not the most loveable of characters, but somehow I still did love her. Weirdness.

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  4. Hooray, hooray! I loved this book and I keep recommending to everyone and their brothers. I thought it was funny and smart and hooray! ;)

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    1. HOORAY indeed! I totally plan on recommending it to all the people- it's always in bookshop windows so I shall point at it and go 'that book is good!' :)

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  5. I've seen this book floating around but somehow managed to learn NOTHING about it. Which is lame cos this sounds amazing.

    By one of the AD writers?? Takes place in Seattle (granted that tidbit came from Alice, but whatever, still didn't know it till she told me). these are important things.

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    1. I feel like that's what I did too, Alley! I think I do this thing where I only skim read reviews if I haven't read the book yet so I don't ruin it in anyway, cause that's the only excuse I have for basically knowing NOTHING about Bernadette!

      And YES these are totally important things! (LOL for not even saying it's set in Seattle in my review. I am SO BAD at actually summarising books...)

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  6. Yeah, I loved this book, too, and unlike you, I usually hate formats like that 'cause it feels like such lazy storytelling on the author's part. But this book pulled it off well, I think.

    "I love hating characters almost as much as I love character redemption, and this book has both of those in bucketloads." TRUTH. I'd never identified that about myself before, so thank you. I can skip my therapy appointment this week now.

    As for other books with epistolary+ formats: I'm sure you've already ready The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Scotiety, but if not, that's a good one.

    There's a really good YA book callde My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger and it uses emails, texts, excerpts from term papers, and straight forward narrative to move the story along. it's also very well done.

    And the forthcoming Marisha Pessl book, Night Film, uses all kinds of crazy-a$$ formats for telling the story, including website screen shots. Havenn't read that one yet, though, so I don't have a personal recommendation for it.

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    1. Ahhh, I can see what you mean about lazy storytelling (in some cases) but.. I still kind of generally always love it? But this one especially, yeah.

      I'm so glad I helped you through some of your issues! But which do we love MORE? (I'm going to have to say the redemption thing. I'm kind of an optimist.)

      I have not read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society! Possibly mainly because I didn't know it was epistolatory and AWESOME also LOOK at all these recommendations how am I going to read them all?! (Loljk I'll be fine). I'm especially intrigued by Night Film... I'll wait for you to read it first though ;)

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  7. You put all so much more eloquently than I was able. It's been over a month since I read it and I still can do nothing but squeal when I think of it. Like, inside my head though, obviously. I'm not odd or nothing.

    I heartily agree with above comment about the guernsey book. That is awesome. If you've not read it. I thought I'd read loads of epistolary novels but in the face of Bernadette's awesomeness I've forgotten them all.

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    1. Hahahaha, I think this is the first time I've ever been accused of being eloquent! But seriously, I've been where you're at with this book with other books and OMG words are difficult (NOT that I didn't love Bernadette, but just not quite to the level you love it, it seems!)

      I haven't read the Guernsey book! I feel like the only epistolatory novels I've actually read are this, some Meg Cabot books (which were fun but ultimately made my brain feel mushy) and Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, which is only sooort of epistolatory. But I really like the format!!

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  8. I totally didn't know it was told in letter form! I've been meaning to read this for a while now (and still haven't) but reading your review has motivated to me to get a copy!

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    1. YAAAAAAY, my evil plan is working... I mean... my kind and gracious plan where I make everyone read a book that is excellent! :)

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  9. I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THE ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT CONNECTION. I'm even more excited now! And also, I was at the register PAYING for my books when I spotted a used copy of this on the "not-yet-priced" shelf, and I'm so glad I grabbed it for $7.50. SO glad. As always, I owe Blogland a debt of gratitude.

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    1. Ohhhhhhh, I love SURPRISE purchases. Like you're just handing over your cash when OH WAIT I need that book too! So awesome/expensive. And YES THE ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT THING! You've got to figure that Writers who wrote for Arrested Development>Most other writers. It's just science.

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  10. I've only read the first bit of this book, but I've come across a bit of Bernadette's Canadian bashing, and it's, it's pretty funny. (I think Canadians kind of like getting made fun of. TO A POINT. Do not slight our poutine or our forget that all the funny actors in Hollywood are ours. All of them.)

    Anyway. I'm glad you liked this! It's on the list, but I own it, so it'll be months and years and months before I read it. (I think you might be onto something with your upcoming library avoidance.)

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    1. Hehehehe, I definitely tweeted Bernadette's Canadian... issues at some point because they amused me... in a LOVING way! I feel like Canadians are fine with being made fun of a bit, because Canada is less cool in an OBVIOUS way than America, but at the end of the day, you're not going to die young because you have that free healthcare thing! (free healthcare FTW!) Also yesssssss Jim Carrey and Will Arnett and GO CANADA.

      I feel you with the owning books and never reading them. SO. MUCH. Library books are the lucky ones!

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  11. Glad you liked it! I thought it was super fun!

    So, I haven't read it, but is World War Z epistolary? I feel like it could actually be really interesting if it is, but I might be misremembering that...

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  12. It really was super fun!

    My understanding about World War Z is that it's told kind of in interviews and stuff by different people? So either way, even if it isn't strictly epistolatory, it's close enough for me! (I definitely want to read it, so I knows stuff about it :) )

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  13. I loved this one too! Ella Minnow Pea is done as an epistolary novel and it's very clever!

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  14. *drives in, screeches to a halt, chucks book on wishlist and screeches away again before Laura can throw any more into the backseat like a ninja*

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  15. It's been a long time since I've flown through a book in less than a day but this book is so well written, funny, touching and wacky that I simply became lost in it. This may be the best fiction book that I will read all year - will certainly be hard to beat in terms of originality.

    Zaira Lynn (Seattle IT Consulting)

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  16. I love the way that the character is portrayed. There needs to be a bit more bitter characters in the reading world. I love the random facts and quirks like how the character knows all of Abbey Road. I think this is great.


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