I think the Internet takes us away from reality. It’s an addiction. It offers escape without nourishment.


Maria Semple

Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the second novel of American author and former screenwriter Maria Semple. Funny, clever, original: the novel is all that – and much more.

Bernadette is quite the antisocial character and yet she writes long rambling emails about her life to someone she does not know. Do you think the Internet can be a modern-day therapist?

Absolutely not! I think the Internet takes us away from reality. It’s an addiction. It offers escape without nourishment. Everyone is looking for some kind of emotional connection and they hope to find it on the Internet. But it’s not there. I taped a little sign to my computer that reads, “There are no answers here.”

You used to write for TV shows. What does this experience bring to novel writing? How different is the writing method?

With TV you’re writing in a group. Nothing you write is truly your own. All writing is done by a committee of not just writers, but actors and studio executives. In contrast, novel writing is solitary. What ends up on the page— for better of worse— is all you.

Had you originally planned to write an epistolary novel or did the pattern appear while you were writing?

I began Where’d You Go, Bernadette as a first person novel narrated by Bernadette. But after about twenty pages, her self-pity, grandiosity and paralysis became too much. I could hardly take another page of her. I couldn’t imagine the reader would be able to tolerate her either. So I started the whole thing over from the third person. But I found that I couldn’t get sufficiently inside Bernadette’s head. Then, one day on a walk, it occurred to me that Bernadette would have a personal assistant running errands for her. But because Bernadette is agoraphobic, the assistant would be virtual. As soon as I wrote that first email from Bernadette to her assistant, something crackled on the page. Only then did it occur to me I might be able to tell my whole story in letters.

Bee’s wish is to go to Antarctica. Why this fascination with “The White Continent”?

Simply, because it’s where I had a trip planned! We booked the trip about a year in advance. In that year I began writing Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Because I was going to such a strange, unknowable place, I kind of pointed my narrative in that direction. During the trip, the logistics of exactly how Antarctica would figure in became clear to me.

How much of your personality is there in Bernadette’s hatred and anger towards Seattle? :-)

More than another writer might admit! When I moved to Seattle, I didn’t like it at all. The city, the people, the street grid. It didn’t help that I was in a bad place creatively. My first novel didn’t sell well, which was devastating to me, and I didn’t know that I’d ever write again. The pain of failure was all consuming. I found myself blaming Seattle for all my creative problems. At the same time, the comedy writer in me recognized that this was a pretty funny and irrational attitude. It occurred to me that there was a character in it: me, in fifteen years, if I kept being stuck creatively and blaming Seattle.

Editorial reviews (7 reviews)


I flew through this book, loved the witty prose and found it such a pleasurable read that it left me desperate to read any other work by Maria Semple.

She has produced a great gift to avid readers: a book that you never want to finish reading.

It's the rare book that actually deserves the term "laugh-out-loud funny".