Somehow, I just didn’t expect to like “Where’d you go, Bernadette?”
In retrospect, my reasons seem pretty lame. Firstly, I didn’t really like the cover. It looked like a kids book. And secondly, the blurb on the back was just too “PR”, full of exclamations and drama.
And in some ways, both these things turned out to be true. The book does read a bit like a kids book, in places. But then again, it is supposed to be written by a kid. So you kind of have to let it off. And the book is full of high drama. The mother character (Bernadette herself) is hugely melodramatic. And a lot of the narrative of the novel focusses on the petty dramas of small communities, in smallish towns (okay, Seattle is a city, but this novel makes it sound like a small town). Not only that, but it is bitty – a story here, a letter there, an email here – which is a style which tends to frustrate me, as you never get a sense of flow.
And at the beginning, those things really annoyed me. And although I was annoyed, I was also smug about being right (I’m perverse in that way) and then bam – I was hooked.
Thinking back on how it reeled me in, I think there are four main reasons:
It is entirely different to anything I have ever read before
Not the style per se. But somehow the combination of style, narrative and characters gave it a totally unique feel.
It balanced the known and the unknown
You truly never knew what would happen next, yet the characters were strangely recognisable. We all know people like many of them. Granted, some traits were taken to extremes, but still.
But mostly, it was just funny
Okay, more ‘bitter’ / ‘ironic’ funny than, ‘ha ha’ funny, but funny nevertheless. It really poked fun at elements of modern life and the way certain people (yes, including me at times) live. Most of the hilarity comes from the mother; although frequently she is unaware she is being funny:
Canadians versus Americans – “Americans are pushy, obnoxious, neurotic, crass – anything and everything….Canadians are none of that…. To Canadians, everyone is equal. Joni Mitchell is interchangeable with a secretary at open-mic night. Frank Gehry is no greater than a hack pumping out McMansions on AutoCAD. John Candy is no fuinnier than Uncle Lou when he gets a couple of beers in him. No wonder the only Canadians anyone’s ever heard of are the ones who have gotten the hell out.”
Chihulys- “Chihulys are the pigeons of Seattle. They’re everywhere, and even if they don’t get in your way, you can’t help but build up a kind of antipathy toward them.”
Being ‘right on’ – “Even the Mayor gets in on the action. There was a comic-book store in my neighbourhood thjat demonstrated great courage by putting up a sign in the window indicating that nobody with pants below their buttocks would be allowed in. And the mayor said he wanted to get to the root of why kids sag their pants.”
Although it’s light, I learned stuff
Ok, undoubtedly this novel is light. But not so light that I didn’t learn a few interesting titbits along the way, for instance:
- The brain is a “discounting mechanism”. Depending on our life experiences to date, we aren’t all overwhelmed by the same beauty, noise etc. We get used to things so we can note new things. This is how we sense danger,
- When your eyes are softly focussed on the horizon for any length of time your brain releases endorphins, like a runners high, and
- The South Pole is on an existing ice sheet – every year they move the marker up to 100 feet.
In totalis, my recommendation is: read this book. It’s an easy, it’s fun, it’s education and it’s different. What more can you want?