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.
This was a random find on a charity shop bookshelf and I’m really pleased I picked it up. I’d heard of this book before, but I’d avoided it for a long time because of the unattractive cover and stupid title but this has just reminded me that you really can’t ... Well, you know how the saying goes.
I don’t often enjoy epistolary books, but here it worked well. It probably helped that Bee’s own narrative was used occasionally, too. She had a nice, snarky style about her that I enjoyed immensely. Also, the book wasn’t just constructed from letters: there were notes, magazine articles, police reports and so on.
I also enjoyed the satire of the whole granola-eating, public-transport-using Microsoft culture. I’ve never been to Seattle, but I got a real sense of it from this book. I also very much enjoyed the way Semple sent up the whole culture of PTA-obsessed helicopter parents.
In some respects I was never really sold on Bernadette’s good qualities, but at the same time I really identified with her (which probably tells you quite a bit about me). I completely got on board with her world-weariness and her dislike of people en masse, but I was kind of curious as to why she had been awarded a genius grant after designing only two houses. I don’t know much about the MacArthur grant, but just two houses? It made me give a bit of a side-eyed look.
The plot itself, played out in letters and documents, is kind of far-fetched, but it was still engrossing, if only because I wanted to see where it would go next. The chances of the events in this story happening in real life are slim to none, but the author makes it all sound completely believable.
All in all, not a bad read.