Come and chat to Maria Semple, author of the Women's Prize for Fiction-shortlisted WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE, Tues 24 Sept, 9-10pm

(111 Posts)

Our September Book of the Month is wonderfully eccentric, both for the way it is written (a jigsaw of emails, letters, official documents, police reports, and many other sources) and for the heroine, whose take on the world is highly unusual.

Shortlisted for the 2013 Women's Fiction Prize, WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a suspense story, as clever teenager Bee tries to track down her missing mother, the notorious Bernadette. Bernadette's dry humour and unorthodox methods create drama wherever she goes, as does her unconcern about being disliked.

The novel's wit and refreshing comedy (the author is regular writer for Saturday Night Live and other hit US shows) make it a perfect piece of intelligent escapism. As Jonathan Franzen put it, 'I tore through this book with heedless pleasure'. A caustic satire on modern life, parenting, social interaction and the American Dream.

Orion have 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours please go to the book of the month page. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We are thrilled that Maria will be joining us and answering questions about WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE, her writing career and her creative inspiration on Tuesday 24 September. So please feel free to discuss the book throughout the month, pop up any advance questions and we will see you all here, Tue 24 September, 9-10pm.

hackmum Wed 31-Jul-13 08:50:04

Really really enjoyed this book. Great fun.

DuchessofMalfi Wed 31-Jul-13 18:08:44

I've been wanting to read this one for ages. Have applied smile

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 02-Aug-13 10:27:07

Quick post to say the 50 free copies have gone. An email will ping its way to your inbox if you're receiving one.

LegoUniverse Tue 06-Aug-13 16:00:03

I bought this a while ago when it was on special offer on Audible and I really loved it. Way, way better than The Hive -- sharp, a bit edgy but not hard work at all. Narrative satisfaction guaranteed.

BumgrapesofWrath Thu 08-Aug-13 20:00:12

Loved this book! Can't wait for the webcast!

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 15-Aug-13 12:27:54

Hello, has anyone had their copy yet? The publisher says they've been posted. smile

isleangel Thu 15-Aug-13 15:34:15

I received a copy at lunchtime. Thank you! A complete surprise as I didn't get an email, but it has made my day. Can't wait to start reading smile

Clawdy Thu 15-Aug-13 15:39:42

Mine arrived today,thanks. Really looking forward to reading it!

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 15-Aug-13 15:53:49

Oh thanks for posting, that's great.

Lomaamina Thu 15-Aug-13 18:29:03

I just got mine in the post too. (Loved the themed address label, which made the whole parcel feel like a special gift). Looking forward to reading this and taking part in the conversation.

Thanks to Mumsnet and Orion the publishers -

loma

Lurkity lurk

Lomaamina Thu 15-Aug-13 21:58:41

Oh and I didn't get an email (not a problem obviously, but in case you wanted to check your systems).

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 16-Aug-13 09:11:05

Lomaamina

Oh and I didn't get an email (not a problem obviously, but in case you wanted to check your systems).

Hmmm, will check. Thanks for flagging.

Lomaamina Fri 16-Aug-13 13:27:29

Just got it a minute ago.

HTH

vicci0314 Fri 16-Aug-13 15:36:41

My book came yesterday im looking forward to reading it.

Cantdothisagain Sat 17-Aug-13 09:04:16

Got mine too! Thank you: it looks intriguing. Looking forward to reading it.

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Sat 17-Aug-13 16:59:35

Just finished my copy! I really enjoyed it. I find it hard to find easy reading books (because who has the energy to read war and peace after a day's childcare?) which aren't chicklit or midlife-crisis lit.

I liked the writing style, the Seattle tech setting and the characters. I thought there was a good underlying, mumsnetty, message about not judging people. But as the book got towards the end I lost a lot of sympathy for Bernadette. I was also disappointed that the story did seem to get more cliched as it progressed.

Still, am definitely tempted to read Maria Semple's first book too.

countingdown Thu 22-Aug-13 08:07:29

I received a copy too. Have read the first part and am really enjoying it so far. Will post again when I have finished.

Lizzylou Thu 22-Aug-13 15:28:07

I read this on holiday, really enjoyed it.
Intelligent escapism is the perfect description I think, though I agree it did wilt a little towards the end, bit cliched.

I think I will try Maria's first book now.

violetwellies Thu 22-Aug-13 22:48:42

I too got book but no email.
I like it, too involved already, I would like to slap 'Elgie'

Lomaamina Sat 24-Aug-13 20:18:56

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it left me with a very vivid picture of Seattle life (for better and for worse) and equally with a sense of the Antarctic landscape and the oddity of life as a scientist in the southernmost desert (making me revisit my DVD copy of Werner Hertzog's 'Encounters at the End of the World' www.wernerherzog.com/films.html).

I also enjoyed the episolatory structure, although on occasion I felt that its rigid format led to more information being included in letters than would have been done in reality.

I have a question in advance of the discussion next month:

You very cleverly tell the same story from several of the characters' viewpoints. I felt that Elgin in particular could be read either as a positive, upstanding stable member of the family or as a neglectful, overworking absent father. Are you wanting your reader to actually decide for themselves how they read the characters, or in fact for the characters to remain as ambiguous figures to the end?

Thanks again to Granta and Mumsnet.

Loma

cavylover Sat 24-Aug-13 21:58:12

Unusually structured book which may not be to everyone's liking with much of the story being told through emails which gives it a very modern feel. Reckon storytelling like this may become commonplace in the future.

Thank you for sending me the book.

Lomaamina Sun 25-Aug-13 08:24:40

Ahem, I meant to say thanks to the publishers Weidenfeld & Nicholson for the book!

@wnbooks

www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/178022124X/ref=redir_mdp_mobile/279-0747805-4006234?qid=1374741648&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

DuchessofMalfi Sun 25-Aug-13 21:07:18

Thank you for my copy MN smile . I arrived whilst I was away on holiday. Just started reading it yesterday. Intriguing so far. It's going to take a while to get used to the way it's written. Should have it finished by the end of the week.

DuchessofMalfi Sun 25-Aug-13 21:10:29

It arrived etc...

grassroots Tue 27-Aug-13 11:41:20

Thank you very much for my free copy!

This was completely different from anything I would normally have chosen, and I loved it. Would normally have been put off by this style of narrative - but this reeled me in. I don't know if the ending was cliched or not - but am never one to turn away from a good cliche! Was so enjoying it I had to send the DS out to play so I could finish it...

iloveeverton Tue 27-Aug-13 12:36:37

I've just finished this book, loved it especially the writing style. I've been googling Antarctica expeditions since.

cindy21 Wed 28-Aug-13 20:06:31

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

DuchessofMalfi Wed 28-Aug-13 20:59:36

I've just finished reading it this evening. I liked it very much, but one tiny little thing has been bothering me. Why is there no question mark in the title, after Bernadette? It is a question grin

I'll come back with my serious question for Maria Semple shortly smile

DuchessofMalfi Thu 29-Aug-13 08:36:27

My question for Maria Semple relates to the style of the novel. Did you decide on the epistolary form from the outset? And why?

I admit to finding it a little confusing to begin with and struggled to get to grips with all the different voices, but it all started to come together but, when it did, I liked it very much.

Trying not to plot spoil, but I liked Bee's narrative linking the emails etc and how there was a reason for that, which became clear towards the end. Bee was definitely my favourite character.

All in all, a very enjoyable novel. Thank you MN for my copy. Looking forward to the discussion on 24th.

anotetofollowso Thu 29-Aug-13 08:57:11

Yeeees, it is a fun book and a good read. But - in true American style - this one wrapped itself up all to neatly at the end. The biting edge turned a bit too sweet and sit-com for my tastes.

But a good holiday read

DuchessofMalfi Thu 29-Aug-13 14:38:48

Just discovered it's currently 1.99 on Amazon kindle smile

Roseanna05 Thu 29-Aug-13 19:24:15

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Palestine Sat 31-Aug-13 11:23:35

Does anyone have any suggestions, for recent fiction, that eschews the data/info overload of current urban existence for a simpler, pastoral past?
By recent I mean, this century.

borninastorm Thu 05-Sep-13 10:58:59

Thank you for the book.

When I first got it the cover and blurb put me off it and tbh I wasn't looking forward to reading it, but as I had to read and review I opened it and got on with it.

I finished it 2 days (in between looking after a toddler and a teen in the school holidays).

The old adage, don't judge a book by its cover was true for me: I loved this book.

I loved the characters, the way it was set out, the use of emails, the questions it raised about society and I loved that the author used several unreliable narrators to tell the story.

I've already recommended this book to several people and I'll also are recommend it to my book club.

I'm feeling a bit Bernadette-esque at the school gates this week...

Thanks to all for their messages so far, and do keep the questions coming - we'll send them to Maria in the next week or so and then looking forward to having her here live on Tues 24th, 9-10pm. Hope you can all join us.

Uzma01 Fri 06-Sep-13 13:46:30

I didn't know I was picked to receive the book so it was a nice surprise to get it in the post.

It took a bit of time to get round to reading it and then when I finally did - I felt it was a tad awkward given the mix of narrations from different characters. Once that was overcome, I actually enjoyed it and wanted to find out what happened to Bernadette!

In terms of my question for Maria - I wanted to know if she based Bernadette's character on anyone from real life? The range of emotions - the passion, the sarcasm and the hilarious behaviour - are quite endearing.

Thanks for the opportunity to read and review it.

Gargamella Sun 08-Sep-13 00:08:42

What fun (as Miranda's mum would say). Really enjoyed this.

So, Maria, if you feel you can answer this without getting into too much bother, how many real life gnats did you draw inspiration from to come up with the Galer crew? Was that some form of therapy to get you through school gate sessions? After the summer break, I need to re-learn a bit of tolerance but unfortunately I'm now thinking that if Bernadette got away with her stance then maybe not....

Hullygully Tue 10-Sep-13 10:48:44

Read this over the summer - thought it was great. I would put it on the shelf next to This Book Will Save Your Life and similar.

Campaspe Tue 10-Sep-13 16:57:36

Thank you for the free book - I hardly ever win competitions, and had forgotten I had applied, so I was thrilled when this came through the post. I liked the style of the book, and the emails that gave insight into how the different characters were feeling. I think I'd have to echo Anotetofollow's comments above that the ending didn't do justice to the rest of the book.

ktlq Tue 10-Sep-13 21:39:08

I got such a kick when I saw my copy of Where'd You Go Bernadette on the doormat - thanks so much!

I thought Bernadette totally embodied the identity crisis which mums can face upon having a baby - the whole work v home life split. The idea that becoming a mum will stunt your career & bring your creativity to a halt really resonated with me unfortunately! I like the way this is resolved however as it gives hope to those still in early years of parenthood...!

I particularly liked the school gate clashes, the Antartica scenes and the cruise ship, yet it felt the last part of the book had even more to offer. Email/epistolry text is hard to digest but something different and actually enjoyable once you get into it. Maria Semple quotes English Passengers as a favourite novel for this and she's right, it's a marvellous book and laugh-out-loud from what I remember. Look forward to the book discussion online!

Thanks again :-))

ktlq Tue 10-Sep-13 21:49:54

My question for Maria: Like Bernadette, did you feel challenged creatively when you became a mother or did you find it easy to switch from work to being mum?
Also, how did the inspiration for the lead character's name come about? Have you visited Lourdes? Many thanks :-)

DuchessofMalfi Wed 11-Sep-13 08:08:39

That's very interesting hully. That was exactly the same book I was thinking of when I read Bernadette too. There's something about this one that reminded me of it.

tandt5 Wed 11-Sep-13 11:12:41

Thank you so much for sending me this book. I took it with me on holiday and I just couldn't put it down.
Really enjoyed how unusual the story was told, how you get to know the characters through different angles from different ways we communicate nowadays. It is so fresh and modern and beautifully written, I would definitely re-read it and recommend it to my friends and at my book club. There are so many things I can relate to and it was so interesting to see how the story would pan out.
The title Where did you go Bernadette can easily have my name in it or many mums out there whose lives have changed dramatically since having kids and are juggling so many things while putting their own needs and desires last (and of course everyone knows pushy Galer parents - how true).
My favourite quote There's no way one person can ever know everything about another person. It doesn't mean you can't try...

Hully/Duchess - strange twist of fate is that we have the excellent AM Homes joining us in November, to talk about all her books including This Book Will Save Your Life and the latest one (May We Be Forgiven) which will be our November BOTM...

Great that so many people enjoyed this and keep the questions coming.

Hullygully Thu 12-Sep-13 08:19:16

Oh marv. I have read all Homes' books. But I won't talk about them now...

I can't think of a question for Maria at the mo, but I do want to say how much I liked it and thought it beautifully constructed and the characters v good indeed.

DuchessofMalfi Thu 12-Sep-13 17:52:20

That's interesting. I shall try and join in the November discussion too smile

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 13-Sep-13 10:13:47

Quick plug for bookclub newsletter, if you don't already get it. The latest has upcoming books for rest of year and giveaways etc.

You subscribe at www.mumsnet.com/member/email-options.

Hullygully Fri 13-Sep-13 10:41:28

I love the dad. And the mum. And I love their relationship. I want to be their friend and go to Alaska with them.

isleangel Mon 16-Sep-13 19:04:39

Finally got the book read. I must say that it wasn't a book I would normally pick, and it didn't really hold my interest at the start, but I decided to give it a chance and really got into it around after 100 pages.

I really liked the way it was written and my question to Maria would be 'Did she have a set pattern when writing ie. did she write all the characters emails individually and then split them up, or did the order just develop as she wrote the book?'

Clawdy Tue 17-Sep-13 20:40:03

I loved the title before I read the book - then I loved the book! Funny,different and characters I grew to like so much. It would make an interesting,quirky film,and my question to Maria is: Who would you like to see as Bernadette? I thought maybe Annette Bening.....

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 18-Sep-13 23:16:52

I borrowed this book from the library and really enjoyed it. I found it easy to read. Some books that jump about from character to character can be confusing but the different writing styles of the characters came through very well and it all slotted together so well.

I did get a bit exasperated with Bernadette though. Was the reader meant to?

Cantdothisagain Thu 19-Sep-13 22:14:28

I wouldn't have picked this book up because the title sounds too slangy somehow. But I really enjoyed it- thank you! I admit I find many modern epistolary novels have a jerky or fake style yet this one struck a raw note through the humour. Thank you Maria. I think I'm probably too late to ask a question but I will anyway - you cite Laclos as an inspiration, but you are much less critical and more generous in your characterisations. Will your next work be written in a similar form, or would you revert to a first person or third person narrative? Much of the charm here lies in the multiple voices, I thought, and I would love to read more- have you considered a sequel, or would that ruin the neatness of the ending?

AmandaRGranger Tue 24-Sep-13 08:04:48

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

I loved this book. I loved the whole family. I found it amusing, sweet and true.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 16:00:15

Hi, everyone! I'm so looking forward to our webchat tonight! Until then, xo Maria

BishBashBoshBoo Tue 24-Sep-13 18:58:24

I absolutely loved this book. It's the best thing I've read this year.

Are the consequences of life overwhelming Bernadette to prevent her creativity something you have experienced?

The book helped me to identify that this may be one of the causes of my (physical) illness,

FiteFuaite Tue 24-Sep-13 19:12:13

I also loved this book,I loved the relationship between Bernadette and Bee,not quite so fond of Elgin,though. I can really relate to the whole PTA madness,too!!

I would love to know what happens next and I would definitely buy a sequel <hint hint>

addle Tue 24-Sep-13 19:52:07

Really enjoyed this book and so did my just turned 14 year old son. I enjoyed the ebb and flow of my liking for Bernadette and really, really liked Bee. Was fascinated by Audrey though that all happened a bit fast for me and frustrated by the end - wanted MORE. thanks very much

KikkiK Tue 24-Sep-13 20:09:34

I loved this book! I'm a big fan of epistolary novels in general and this is one of the best I've read. It prompted me to download Abbey Road too!
Can we still post questions for Maria? If so, I'd like to know if you decided Bernadette should go to Antarctica before you took a trip there yourself, or if you set part of the novel there because you'd been there?
And, what are you working on now? Very much looking forward to the next book. Thanks for coming on and chatting to us. smile

Evening everyone (and welcome back after the summer)

I'm delighted so many of you enjoyed this book as much as I did - everyone I've given it to has remarked on the freshness and originality of the writing, and how much this novel stood out from the crowd.

I'm equally delighted that Maria is joining us tonight to talk about her excellent novel, her career as an author and how the brilliant Bernadette came about.

There are already many messages and questions to discuss, so without further ado...

Maria, welcome to Mumsnet Bookclub and thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And thank you for an extraordinarily enjoyable and refreshing book. Bernadette's voice still rings in my head even though I read the novel many months ago. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:02:02

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone (and welcome back after the summer)

I'm delighted so many of you enjoyed this book as much as I did - everyone I've given it to has remarked on the freshness and originality of the writing, and how much this novel stood out from the crowd.

I'm equally delighted that Maria is joining us tonight to talk about her excellent novel, her career as an author and how the brilliant Bernadette came about.

There are already many messages and questions to discuss, so without further ado...

Maria, welcome to Mumsnet Bookclub and thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And thank you for an extraordinarily enjoyable and refreshing book. Bernadette's voice still rings in my head even though I read the novel many months ago. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?
Harriet the Spy. It’s about a girl who feels alone, but spends her life spying on adults. I realize now this is the life of a writer. The ability to be alone, the interest in other people are both critical.

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:04:05

I'm so glad to be here! Thank you for having me. It's a huge thrill. OK, for fiction writers, here's my advice: Write what you’d like to read. Make sure, before you start, that something feels dangerous to you, almost to the point of nausea. Seriously. You’ll have to live with these characters, with this story, for three or four years. There had better be something really deep, something that resonates with you emotionally, to keep you interested during the bad writing days. I’m also a big believer in doing many drafts and not showing the first three to other people. I teach writing and tell all my students to resist the temptation to show their work too early. And don’t give up.

MariaSemple

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone (and welcome back after the summer)

I'm delighted so many of you enjoyed this book as much as I did - everyone I've given it to has remarked on the freshness and originality of the writing, and how much this novel stood out from the crowd.

I'm equally delighted that Maria is joining us tonight to talk about her excellent novel, her career as an author and how the brilliant Bernadette came about.

There are already many messages and questions to discuss, so without further ado...

Maria, welcome to Mumsnet Bookclub and thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And thank you for an extraordinarily enjoyable and refreshing book. Bernadette's voice still rings in my head even though I read the novel many months ago. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?
Harriet the Spy. Its about a girl who feels alone, but spends her life spying on adults. I realize now this is the life of a writer. The ability to be alone, the interest in other people are both critical.

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:05:09

My favorite childhood book is Harriet the Spy. It’s about a girl who feels alone, but spends her life spying on adults. I realize now this is the life of a writer. The ability to be alone, the interest in other people are both critical.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:06:20

I hope you do. It's called THIS ONE IS MINE and it's coming out in the UK this fall.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:07:13

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen

Just finished my copy! I really enjoyed it. I find it hard to find easy reading books (because who has the energy to read war and peace after a day's childcare?) which aren't chicklit or midlife-crisis lit.

I liked the writing style, the Seattle tech setting and the characters. I thought there was a good underlying, mumsnetty, message about not judging people. But as the book got towards the end I lost a lot of sympathy for Bernadette. I was also disappointed that the story did seem to get more cliched as it progressed.

Still, am definitely tempted to read Maria Semple's first book too.

Please so, it's called THIS ONE IS MINE and it's coming out in the UK this fall, published by Orion.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:08:11

Lomaamina

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it left me with a very vivid picture of Seattle life (for better and for worse) and equally with a sense of the Antarctic landscape and the oddity of life as a scientist in the southernmost desert (making me revisit my DVD copy of Werner Hertzog's 'Encounters at the End of the World' www.wernerherzog.com/films.html).

I also enjoyed the episolatory structure, although on occasion I felt that its rigid format led to more information being included in letters than would have been done in reality.

I have a question in advance of the discussion next month:

You very cleverly tell the same story from several of the characters' viewpoints. I felt that Elgin in particular could be read either as a positive, upstanding stable member of the family or as a neglectful, overworking absent father. Are you wanting your reader to actually decide for themselves how they read the characters, or in fact for the characters to remain as ambiguous figures to the end?

Thanks again to Granta and Mumsnet.

Loma

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:08:57

MariaSemple

Lomaamina

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it left me with a very vivid picture of Seattle life (for better and for worse) and equally with a sense of the Antarctic landscape and the oddity of life as a scientist in the southernmost desert (making me revisit my DVD copy of Werner Hertzog's 'Encounters at the End of the World' www.wernerherzog.com/films.html).

I also enjoyed the episolatory structure, although on occasion I felt that its rigid format led to more information being included in letters than would have been done in reality.

I have a question in advance of the discussion next month:

You very cleverly tell the same story from several of the characters' viewpoints. I felt that Elgin in particular could be read either as a positive, upstanding stable member of the family or as a neglectful, overworking absent father. Are you wanting your reader to actually decide for themselves how they read the characters, or in fact for the characters to remain as ambiguous figures to the end?

Thanks again to Granta and Mumsnet.

Loma

Thanks, Loma. I certainly love all my characters, even Elgie, Soo-Lin and Audrey. But before I settle on a character—one I’m going to have spend years with before I finish a novel—I need to make sure they’re flawed enough to be interesting. As you can see, all my characters are wildly flawed! I am hoping to take the readers on a journey of discovery regarding the characters. In the beginning, there’s a lot we don’t know about Bernadette. Audrey has some kind of religious awakening. Elgie, in my opinion, steps up at the end despite his earlier flaws. So yes, I’m trying to make my characters real and flawed and hopefully they’ll be of interest to the readers.

And I love that Werner Hertzog documentary. I hugely recommend it.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:11:04

DuchessofMalfi

I've just finished reading it this evening. I liked it very much, but one tiny little thing has been bothering me. Why is there no question mark in the title, after Bernadette? It is a question grin

I'll come back with my serious question for Maria Semple shortly smile

Duchess! Ha! What’s funny is that people in the UK seem to really be bothered by this. Nobody in the US seems to care. (That figures, right?) OK, here’s my reasoning. I didn’t want my title to have any punctuation mark at the end. It would seem so closed, in a way, not inviting to the reader. I know it’s weird, but I tried it with a question mark and it somehow seemed forbidding. I bet you still don’t know what I’m talking about. It was purely instinctual.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:14:47

DuchessofMalfi

My question for Maria Semple relates to the style of the novel. Did you decide on the epistolary form from the outset? And why?

I admit to finding it a little confusing to begin with and struggled to get to grips with all the different voices, but it all started to come together but, when it did, I liked it very much.

Trying not to plot spoil, but I liked Bee's narrative linking the emails etc and how there was a reason for that, which became clear towards the end. Bee was definitely my favourite character.

All in all, a very enjoyable novel. Thank you MN for my copy. Looking forward to the discussion on 24th.

Duchess. Hello, again. I tried the novel in first person, but after about 50 pages, I wanted to slap Bernadette or take her out back and shoot her. But I couldn't capture her craziness in the third person. I was frustrated, but I knew I was onto something with this character, so I kept trying. It one day occurred to me that Berandette would have a personal assistant. And as soon as she wrote the first letter to her virtual assistant, I knew I was onto something. I thought, Hey, can I write the whole novel this way? I gave it a try and kept thinking that it would crash and burn at some point. But I got through it, and I think it's a fun book to read as a result.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:17:35

borninastorm

Thank you for the book.

When I first got it the cover and blurb put me off it and tbh I wasn't looking forward to reading it, but as I had to read and review I opened it and got on with it.

I finished it 2 days (in between looking after a toddler and a teen in the school holidays).

The old adage, don't judge a book by its cover was true for me: I loved this book.

I loved the characters, the way it was set out, the use of emails, the questions it raised about society and I loved that the author used several unreliable narrators to tell the story.

I've already recommended this book to several people and I'll also are recommend it to my book club.

Thank you so much! I hope your book club enjoys it as much as you did. It makes me so happy to learn that I gave mothers running after children a few laughs and some much needed hours of escape!

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:22:27

Uzma01

I didn't know I was picked to receive the book so it was a nice surprise to get it in the post.

It took a bit of time to get round to reading it and then when I finally did - I felt it was a tad awkward given the mix of narrations from different characters. Once that was overcome, I actually enjoyed it and wanted to find out what happened to Bernadette!

In terms of my question for Maria - I wanted to know if she based Bernadette's character on anyone from real life? The range of emotions - the passion, the sarcasm and the hilarious behaviour - are quite endearing.

Thanks for the opportunity to read and review it.

I am Bernadette. Ha, there, I said it. I should really say, shes an exaggerated version of me. Like Bernadette, I moved to Seattle from LA and had a hard time adjusting. It was really the people I had a hard time with. Id been a comedy writer in LA and the people in Seattle werent as funny, neurotic and extroverted and I was used to. Also, Id written a novel, THIS ONE IS MINE, that had come out, gotten good reviews but didnt catch the world on fire in terms of sales. It was a huge disappointment. I thought Id never write again and I somehow blamed Seattle. But luckily, I realized this was an essentially comic situationan artist who cant overcome failure so, instead of taking personal responsibility and bouncing back, blames an entire city of people shes never met. So I built the narrative around that essential pain I was in at the time. Im happy to report that Orion is publishing THIS ONE IS MINE in the UK in the fall. Its a book I love and am immensely proud of. Like Bernadette, its funny, dark, edgy, has a wild story.

Very interesting answer to Duchess - I wondered whether you felt more comfortable with dialogue-type writing because of your television screenwriting experience?

The book does feel so snappy and alive, more akin to drama than many traditional description-heavy novels.

twinteresting Tue 24-Sep-13 21:22:59

Hello Maria
I loved this book - couldn't stop reading it - thank you. I enjoyed the changes in narrative and the differing ways of telling the story (though I think confess to raising a cynical eyebrow at the Microsoft SuperGuy Elgie allowing his laptop battery to run out on a plane hmmgrin
The one thing that really stuck with me is Bernadette's words to Bee about being bored and that only boring people get bored.

"You think its boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. THe sooner you learn it's ON YOU to make life interesting, the better off you'll be."

My children are young-ish (5 and a half and nearly 3) so as yet I haven't had that "mummeeeee I'm bored!" moment but I will v much be planning to quote that back at them when they do.

Did someone say that to you when you were younger?

twinteresting Tue 24-Sep-13 21:23:54

Ooh Am I allowed a second question?
Was being a comedy writer in LA anything like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip at all?!?!

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:25:06

Gargamella

What fun (as Miranda's mum would say). Really enjoyed this.

So, Maria, if you feel you can answer this without getting into too much bother, how many real life gnats did you draw inspiration from to come up with the Galer crew? Was that some form of therapy to get you through school gate sessions? After the summer break, I need to re-learn a bit of tolerance but unfortunately I'm now thinking that if Bernadette got away with her stance then maybe not....

Hello, Gargamella. (Hey, I'm starting to think you're all using fake names.)
So the Galer Street gnats was a part of the book that was entirely made up. I realized I needed Bernadette to have an enemy, for dramatic purposes. I went through my options and I realized I didn’t have many, mainly because Bernadette was a shut-in who had no job and didn’t come into contact with many people. So the logical place for her to come into contact with people (or not!) was school. I still find myself challenged by the amount of volunteering they expect me to do! So I just ran with it. If you’re interested, all the mothers at my daughter’s school love the book. They’re very proud one of the moms wrote it.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:26:00

Hullygully

I love the dad. And the mum. And I love their relationship. I want to be their friend and go to Alaska with them.

I'm glad. I was worried most of you hated Elgie. I love him, too!

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:26:57

ktlq

I got such a kick when I saw my copy of Where'd You Go Bernadette on the doormat - thanks so much!

I thought Bernadette totally embodied the identity crisis which mums can face upon having a baby - the whole work v home life split. The idea that becoming a mum will stunt your career & bring your creativity to a halt really resonated with me unfortunately! I like the way this is resolved however as it gives hope to those still in early years of parenthood...!

I particularly liked the school gate clashes, the Antartica scenes and the cruise ship, yet it felt the last part of the book had even more to offer. Email/epistolry text is hard to digest but something different and actually enjoyable once you get into it. Maria Semple quotes English Passengers as a favourite novel for this and she's right, it's a marvellous book and laugh-out-loud from what I remember. Look forward to the book discussion online!

Thanks again :-))

Yay! Let's all read ENGLISH PASSENGERS. It's fabulous.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:28:30

ktlq

My question for Maria: Like Bernadette, did you feel challenged creatively when you became a mother or did you find it easy to switch from work to being mum?
Also, how did the inspiration for the lead character's name come about? Have you visited Lourdes? Many thanks :-)

I was really unprepared for motherhood, I must say. I had no idea how challenging it would be. I suffered from post-partum depression. Its what my first book, THIS ONE IS MINE, is really about, deep-down. The idea that you finally have this thing you wanted so badly, yet it destroys you (to put it harshly!) But in some weird way, I dont think I could have become a novelist if I wasnt a mother. When I was away from my baby, my time was so precious that I made the most of it. I think thats why Im such a fast writer, and why my concentration is so fierce.

And no, Ive never been to Lourdes. Id love to. The name just popped into my head. I wanted a messy name with a lot of syllables, for a messy woman!

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:29:55

isleangel

Finally got the book read. I must say that it wasn't a book I would normally pick, and it didn't really hold my interest at the start, but I decided to give it a chance and really got into it around after 100 pages.

I really liked the way it was written and my question to Maria would be 'Did she have a set pattern when writing ie. did she write all the characters emails individually and then split them up, or did the order just develop as she wrote the book?'

Hi Isleangel. I love hearing that I won over a skeptic! I wrote the book chronologically. With each story point, I had to figure out who was telling the story, who they were telling it to, and why they were telling it. It was a challenge, but hugely fun, like three dimensional chess. Which would imply that I’ve played three dimensional chess. Or one dimensional chess for that matter. Nope, neither.
But thanks for the question!

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:31:30

Clawdy

I loved the title before I read the book - then I loved the book! Funny,different and characters I grew to like so much. It would make an interesting,quirky film,and my question to Maria is: Who would you like to see as Bernadette? I thought maybe Annette Bening.....

I can see so many different actresses in the part. In fact, I’m writing the screenplay now. And I don’t picture any one actress. But wow, do I love Annette Bening! Great idea, Clawdy.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:34:00

Picturesinthefirelight

I borrowed this book from the library and really enjoyed it. I found it easy to read. Some books that jump about from character to character can be confusing but the different writing styles of the characters came through very well and it all slotted together so well.

I did get a bit exasperated with Bernadette though. Was the reader meant to?

Picturesinthefirelight

I borrowed this book from the library and really enjoyed it. I found it easy to read. Some books that jump about from character to character can be confusing but the different writing styles of the characters came through very well and it all slotted together so well.

I did get a bit exasperated with Bernadette though. Was the reader meant to?

As I mentioned earlier, even thought Bernadette was based on me, even I couldn't take her at times. She's a really strong, crazy, self-pitying, semi-delusional, irresponsible person!

I wanted to push her and the reader right to the edge. I think it’s a thrilling experience as a reader to keep shifting my opinions of a character. So I try to do that with my writing. In some cases, I push it too far and someone (you!) doesn’t like a character.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:36:23

Cantdothisagain

I wouldn't have picked this book up because the title sounds too slangy somehow. But I really enjoyed it- thank you! I admit I find many modern epistolary novels have a jerky or fake style yet this one struck a raw note through the humour. Thank you Maria. I think I'm probably too late to ask a question but I will anyway - you cite Laclos as an inspiration, but you are much less critical and more generous in your characterisations. Will your next work be written in a similar form, or would you revert to a first person or third person narrative? Much of the charm here lies in the multiple voices, I thought, and I would love to read more- have you considered a sequel, or would that ruin the neatness of the ending?

Hi Cantdothisagain. (I hope that doesn't refer to reading my book.) No, I don't think I'll write a sequel. Although in the screenplay for the book I just finished, I do go into the future a bit, to show what's become of everyone.

As for the next book. This book, Bernadette, became an epistolary novel after an attempt at first person, then third person. So, really, the book dictated the form and point of view. It was a tough nut to crack, but when I did, I was really happy to have found it. I’m not sure about the next book. I’m thinking more traditional third person, but it could be anything. I’ll figure it out once I start writing.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:36:46

Thisisaeuphemism

I loved this book. I loved the whole family. I found it amusing, sweet and true.

Aww, thank you!

BetsyBidwell Tue 24-Sep-13 21:37:21

I agree title almost put me off - and the cover. but loved

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:38:27

BishBashBoshBoo

I absolutely loved this book. It's the best thing I've read this year.

Are the consequences of life overwhelming Bernadette to prevent her creativity something you have experienced?

The book helped me to identify that this may be one of the causes of my (physical) illness,

Thank you so much. Yes! When I was in the grip of feeling like a failure, I could barely get through my day and I was to full of self-pity to write. But I bounced back and wrote a book about it. I feel so humbled that so many people can relate to this type of pain, and that they're able to laugh with me.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:39:47

KikkiK

I loved this book! I'm a big fan of epistolary novels in general and this is one of the best I've read. It prompted me to download Abbey Road too!
Can we still post questions for Maria? If so, I'd like to know if you decided Bernadette should go to Antarctica before you took a trip there yourself, or if you set part of the novel there because you'd been there?
And, what are you working on now? Very much looking forward to the next book. Thanks for coming on and chatting to us. smile

Thank you, KikiK. I had just started the book—I knew I had a character in Bernadette and was starting to build her family. We’d had a long-planned trip to Antarctica and were leaving in a month. So I thought I’d point my family in the direction of Antarctica and go there and see if I could think of some way to work it in. At the very least, it would be original, right, because how many people get to go there? Like Bernadette, I fell in love with the place.

I’m currently writing the screenplay for the Bernadette movie. I’ve got some terrific producers (who produces The Hunger Games) and a wonderful studio (Zero Dark Thirty, The Master) and hopefully if this script is goo, we can hire a director and actress and get this baby made!

MabelMay Tue 24-Sep-13 21:40:05

Which do you prefer now: Seattle or LA? (I am a Londoner currently living in LA and feel like it's an incredibly dysfunctional city!)

MabelMay Tue 24-Sep-13 21:40:23

By the way, I thought the book was great!

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:41:42

twinteresting

Ooh Am I allowed a second question?
Was being a comedy writer in LA anything like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip at all?!?!

I loved that show-- it only lasted one season, right? Yes, it's pretty much like that. It's a huge amount of fun, craziness, long hours and camaraderie. I much prefer writing novels because my time is my own. But I miss driving into work and having my main objective be trying to make other people laugh.

I'm going to sneak another question in (only answer if there's time).

Which contemporary writers do you rate highly?

Gargamella Tue 24-Sep-13 21:43:24

Just had to jump in to say I also adored Harriet the Spy. Must have read it dozens of times. And haven't heard it mentioned by anyone else for so long.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:43:39

twinteresting

Hello Maria
I loved this book - couldn't stop reading it - thank you. I enjoyed the changes in narrative and the differing ways of telling the story (though I think confess to raising a cynical eyebrow at the Microsoft SuperGuy Elgie allowing his laptop battery to run out on a plane hmmgrin
The one thing that really stuck with me is Bernadette's words to Bee about being bored and that only boring people get bored.

"You think its boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. THe sooner you learn it's ON YOU to make life interesting, the better off you'll be."

My children are young-ish (5 and a half and nearly 3) so as yet I haven't had that "mummeeeee I'm bored!" moment but I will v much be planning to quote that back at them when they do.

Did someone say that to you when you were younger?

Nobody said that to me, but when I was in a mother-baby class, a teacher said something to that effect: that as mothers we always feel like we need to entertain our babies and toddlers. She asked, what's the endgame? At some point you won't be able to entertain them and then they won't be able to entertain themselves. The greatest gift you can give your child, she said, was the ability to tolerate boredom. That really clicked with me and I've said it many times.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:44:34

Gargamella

Just had to jump in to say I also adored Harriet the Spy. Must have read it dozens of times. And haven't heard it mentioned by anyone else for so long.

I'm so glad! I wasn't sure if anyone in the UK knows about it. But most people here, of a certain age, have read it.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:45:21

MabelMay

Which do you prefer now: Seattle or LA? (I am a Londoner currently living in LA and feel like it's an incredibly dysfunctional city!)

MayMay, I must prefer Seattle now. LA is tough. I feel for you!

twinteresting Tue 24-Sep-13 21:46:30

I love love love Harriet the Spy
Must send to my god daughter actually - I only have 2 boys and not sure theyd be into it.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:46:37

BetsyBidwell

I agree title almost put me off - and the cover. but loved

Betsy, Isn't that funny about the cover. I love the cover, and think we get a lot of readers because of the fabulous cover. I'm glad you were able to look past it!

twinteresting Tue 24-Sep-13 21:47:33

Wow Maria
Thanks for answering my question - DH and I both agree that it sounds like a great job.

jongleuse Tue 24-Sep-13 21:48:22

So sorry I'm late to the party, but wondered if Maria saw all the plaudits and her Women's Prize for Fiction shortlisting as a riposte to that 'women writers get pigeonholed as mommyfic if they write domestic while Franzen and his ilk get ALL the prizes' stuff.
Not very clear as a question, more of a whaddya think?
BTW loved the book and recommended to many.

Gargamella Tue 24-Sep-13 21:49:38

any inkling yet of when the movie is likely to come out?

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:50:30

jongleuse

So sorry I'm late to the party, but wondered if Maria saw all the plaudits and her Women's Prize for Fiction shortlisting as a riposte to that 'women writers get pigeonholed as mommyfic if they write domestic while Franzen and his ilk get ALL the prizes' stuff.
Not very clear as a question, more of a whaddya think?
BTW loved the book and recommended to many.

Thanks, Jongleuse. Personally, I feel really lucky to be a woman writer writing about women and families. I think it gives us a huge advantage, really, because readers are largely women. I have little patience for all that talk about how women writers have it so bad. I find it incredibly boring.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 21:51:25

Gargamella

any inkling yet of when the movie is likely to come out?

It's still a long way off. So much can go wrong, but we're all hopeful. The first thing is to get a strong script, which I've been working on, and which I'm about to get back to and turn in today. Yay!!!

busybee1978 Tue 24-Sep-13 21:54:42

I really enjoyed the book and thank everyone concerned that I won a copy. I would like to ask (if I'm not too late) where you found your convincing teenage voice from? I should imagine that Bee's must have been the hardest voice to write? Can't wait for the screenplay!

We're running out of time, so I just want to say a large thank you to everyone who posted and put forward such interesting questions.

Maria, thank you very very much indeed for giving us your time and energy, and for making us laugh all over again with some of your answers. It has been fascinating to get the insight into how the characters developed, and how your own experience shaped the book.

Can't wait till the film comes out (Annette Bening is a top idea, especially since seeing her in The Kids Are Alright - will be rooting for that casting). Meanwhile, good luck with the next novel and please come back and tell us about it when it is finished.

Many thanks again and congratulations on all your success.

jongleuse Tue 24-Sep-13 22:01:09

Wonderful book discussion again; thanks to MNet for organising and Maria for answering questions so eloquently. Thrilled to find another Harriet the Spy fan and I WANT Claire Danes to play Bernadette...

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 22:01:23

busybee1978

I really enjoyed the book and thank everyone concerned that I won a copy. I would like to ask (if I'm not too late) where you found your convincing teenage voice from? I should imagine that Bee's must have been the hardest voice to write? Can't wait for the screenplay!

Hi BusyBee,
I went deep inside to a part of me that was quiet and wrote Bee from there. I was worried, at first, that I'd have to fill her with teenaged jargon and sass. If that was the case, I didn't even want to write her at all. But then I thought I'd risk it and make her simple. I'm glad it worked for you. I love her voice.

MariaSemple Tue 24-Sep-13 22:02:24

TillyBookClub

We're running out of time, so I just want to say a large thank you to everyone who posted and put forward such interesting questions.

Maria, thank you very very much indeed for giving us your time and energy, and for making us laugh all over again with some of your answers. It has been fascinating to get the insight into how the characters developed, and how your own experience shaped the book.

Can't wait till the film comes out (Annette Bening is a top idea, especially since seeing her in The Kids Are Alright - will be rooting for that casting). Meanwhile, good luck with the next novel and please come back and tell us about it when it is finished.

Many thanks again and congratulations on all your success.

Tilly, this was such a thrill. I love this website and will be surfing it when I should be writing, for many years to come! Thank you all. xo

I wish that chat could have gone on for another hour, so much I still want to ask...

However, we do have the next month's book to think about and the return of MAGGIE O'FARRELL to the bookclub sofa on Weds 23rd October, 9-10pm. Look forward to seeing you all then.

MABS Tue 08-Oct-13 17:20:35

aggghhh missed this!! Maria is my cousin smile

MunchkinMama Mon 21-Oct-13 21:50:50

I finally finished the book (demanding babies I have, leaving me little time for reading) and really enjoyed it. I like the corporate IT world perspective having come from that myself and I think that seeing the same characters from differing viewpoints is exactly how real life is.

Some of the letters and emails did seem a little overworked in order to get the story across to the reader but somehow I discounted that as I was curious to see where Bernadette was going as she got more and more eccentric. Conversely, sometimes the letters did not give enough insight making the story a little unreal. For example, Audrey's complete turnabout just didn't convince me, yet it was so central to the advancement of the story. Soo-Lin also felt like a cardboard character but given her peripheral role I wasn't too bothered, perhaps this was intentional from the author anyway.

To me the story ended when Bee found her mother in that tremendous hug where the mother daughter relationship was fully acknowledged and displayed by both. I felt that it had to end that way otherwise the story would have been meaningless. After that it was all a bit cliched and kind of unnecessary.

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