Published in 2013, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is in some ways a throwback to the epistolary novels of the past that irritate modern readers so much. Anyone who has ever read a novel told through the means of letters from one character to another and asked “why can’t the author just tell the story” will learn the value of that mode of transmission of ideas by reading Maria Semple’s inventive new take on the epistolary genre.
For this novel, substitute the immaculately-conceived missives sent through the post by characters of the past with FBI files, e-mails, hospital bills, physician reports and, yes, a few old-fashioned letters here and there. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is every bit as subversive in form as it is in content. After all, despite the plethora of inventive documentation that helps propel the narrative, the story still has a very fixed perspective: that of Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, who launches a frantic search for her best friend in the world when her mom suddenly and mysterious goes missing.
All that documentation is seamlessly integrated into a coherent point of view by virtue of the paperwork—both tangible and virtual—that young Bee begins compiling as part of the effort to answer the novel’s titular query. The result is a comic novel that spent a year on the bestseller list and made the shortlist for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.