“This is quintessential Joyce: at once poignant and playful, with huge heart and the same resonance, truth and lightness of touch as her phenomenally
successful debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.”
– Miss Benson’s Beetle
[ About the Book ]
It is 1950, two unlikely women set off on a hare-brained adventure
to the other side of the world to try and find a beetle, and in doing so
discover friendship and how to be their best of themselves.
Britain, post Second World War. In a moment of madness Margery
Benson abandons her sensible job and advertises for an assistant to
accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side
of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist.
Enid Pretty, in pink hat and pompom sandals, is not the companion she
had in mind.
But together they will find themselves drawn into an adventure that exceeds all expectations. They must risk everything, break
all the rules, but at the top of a red mountain they will discover who
they truly are, and how to be the best of themselves
This is a novel that is less about what can be found than the belief it
might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story but it is also about
what it means to be a woman and a tender exploration of a friendship
that defies all boundaries
[ My Thoughts ]
I am delighted to be sharing my review of Miss Benson’s Beetle today as part of the blog tour with Random Things Tours. Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce will be published with DoubleDay books July 23rd. It is a book that is receiving great praise, with author Sarah Winman stating that “Rachel Joyce is a masterful storyteller. She has written the perfect book for these times. Funny, perceptive and life-enhancing. I urge you to read it.”
Miss Benson’s Beetle is a tale encapsulating so many themes but it is that special bond of friendship and of being true to yourself which shines through.
Margery Benson has had a very tough life. Traumatised by events during the Great War, Margery grew up surrounded by older women. Her mother and spinster aunts were all that existed for Margery and her world was a very insular place. From listening to her father explaining about the wondrous existence of unusual creatures out in the greater world, Margery developed a fascination with beetles. One of her aunts suggested a trip to the Natural History Museum and Margery’s eyes were opened to the most amazing collection of beetles she had ever imagined. From that point on, these little beetles became her obsession but her mind kept wandering to one particular beetle, a golden beetle that was only to be found in New Caledonia. This particular species had never been caught and recorded to date and Margery recalls her father wistfully telling her about this enigmatic species.
Margery unwittingly became a Home Economics teacher but her mind was never really on the job. Dowdy, overweight and very unhappy with life, Margery was in her forties and, in her eyes, her life had not amounted to very much at all.
“She got the feeling she was always looking at life through a glass wall, but one that had bobbles in it and cracks, so that she could never fully see what was on the other side, and even when she did, it was too late….
It occurred to Margery that something inside her was hurting and the thing that was hurting was the knowledge that she would never be that kind of woman. She would always be on the outside.“
So, one day, an event triggered something in Margery and she decided the time had come for her to do something dramatic with her life, to make her mark on the world. Putting an advert out for an assistant, Margery decided to fund her own expedition to New Caledonia in search of this elusive Golden Beetle. In doing so, Margery was about to put in motion a series of events that would change the course of her life forever.
Enid Pretty was to be Margery’s companion but from the beginning it was clear that their relationship was an unusual one. With very polar personalities, their trip got off to a shaky start but over the course of many weeks and many an adventure, the two found themselves a curious duo in New Caledonia. Surrounded by colours, scents and noises that were beyond their wildest imaginations, Margery and Enid attempted to establish a plan of action but obstacles were forever in their way. Margery found Enid to be a very intriguing person with her flamboyant personality and general joie de vivre but Margery also knew that Enid was hiding something, a secret that passed her face like a moving shadow. But Margery respected Enid’s privacy and in time their relationship started to soften..
“The differences between them – all those things she’d once found so infuriating – she now accepted. Being Enid’s friend meant there were always going to be surprises. However close they were it didn’t entitle her to Enid’s memories and neither did it allow her to be part of Enid’s life before they met. Being a friend meant accepting those unknowable things. It was by placing herself side by side with Enid that Margery had finally begun to see the true outline of herself. And she knew it now: Enid was her friend.”
Miss Benson’s Beetle has a very vintage feel to it with it’s stories of sea-adventures, old maps, secret treasures, mysterious goings on and fabled creatures. The characters are all depicted wonderfully bringing the reader right into the world of Margery Benson, as she struggles with who she is and who she can be. During the course of their adventure Margery initially looked at Enid almost with pity and at times with envy, but gradually Margery saw Enid in a different light. And, like an emerging butterfly from a cocoon, a very special friendship was to develop.
Reading Miss Benson’s Beetle is to take a journey with an open imagination and a joy in your heart as you watch life unfold for Margery and Enid. It’s not all sugar and sweet as events do twist and turn from the humourous and harmonious to times of real fear and dread. With stunning imagery of a land far away, Miss Benson’s Beetle is a quirky, off-beat and charming read with a balanced dose of reality in its midst. The perfect escapism right now!!
[ Bio ]
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop and a collection of interlinked
short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her books have been translated into thirty -six languages and two are in development for film.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’2014. Rachel was a Costa prize judge and University Big Read author in 2019.
She has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles
for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl.
She lives with her family in Gloucestershire.