This is going to be a short little review – I finished this book over a month ago and simply haven’t had the time to write a review. Forgive me if I mix up any of the details – like I said, it’s been a while since I read it!
I was going to describe the character of the title, Bernadette, as an agoraphobe, but that’s not quite right. She’s not afraid of leaving the house or of other people – she simply loathes them. She’s a genius architect who, at the beginning of the novel that is narrated by her teen daughter Bee, has secluded herself in the decrepit old girls’ school she, her husband Elgie, and Bee live in in Seattle. As we come to learn through a series of emails and articles that Bee finds, Bernadette once created a major marvel of architecture known as the 20 Mile House – and then through a series of escalating conflicts with a neighbor, promptly lost it. After suffering that loss, and then a series of miscarriages, Bernadette retreats into her home, even hiring a virtual assistant from India to help her with her errands so she doesn’t have to interact with the outside world – especially the “gnats” aka the parents of Bee’s fellow classmates.
Bee, a shining star at her private school, convinces her parents to take her on a trip to Antarctica, so Bernadette asks her virtual assistant to make preparations. At the same time, Bee’s school is planning a large fundraiser to try to hook more parents into sending their kids to the school. And the “gnat” in charge of the fundraiser butts heads with Bernadette over some vines that are encroaching on the woman’s property. All of these events collide, and to say much more would really ruin things. The fundraiser scene is written like a screwball comedy – something major happens and it snowballs from there. Bernadette begins to lose her grip on things until finally she simply disappears – and it’s up to Bee to piece together her mother’s past and figure out where she went.
I thought the book started out a bit slowly, but once I got to the fundraiser scene, I was hooked. I couldn’t put it down – I simply had to know what was going to happen next! As for where Bernadette went – it’s not hard to figure out where, but how she did it was a little tricky. Bee was a wonderful narrator – very precocious – and though Bernadette seems like, well, a bit of a bitch in the beginning, the more Bee learns about her, the more sympathetic she becomes. Overall, I’d recommend this book if you like screwball comedies with a bit of mystery and a lot of heart.