What an uplifting read is Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, an author who never fails to deliver a read that is both thoughtful and chuckle-out-loud. It is a tale of failure, friendship, the spirit of adventure and never-say-die. Above all it is a story of not giving up, never allowing yourself to be defeated.
Margery Benson has never fit in, never married. It is 1950 and she is a teacher at a girls’ school, mocked and ridiculed by pupils, never liked by colleagues. Alone now after the death of her aunts who raised her after the death of her parents, she knows she lacks self-worth but doesn’t know how to change things. The one thing that gives her pleasure is remembering time spent as a child with her father who encouraged her to read. Her favourite book was Incredible Creatures, an illustrated guide to extinct and ‘never found’ animals. Margery fell in love with a gold beetle suspected to be living on the Pacific island of New Caledonia.
A sequence of events sets the middle-aged Margery on an ocean liner bound for Australia in search of both the beetle and a purpose for her life. After interviewing and rejecting three unsuitable people for the job of her assistant, Margery is resigned to travelling alone. Until she is joined at the last minute by probably the most unsuitable of the three applicants, Enid Pretty. ‘Her hair was a stiff puff with the perky hat pinned on top; about as useful in terms of sun protection as a beer mat on her head.’ Unbeknown to both women, they are being followed by someone else. And unbeknown to Margery, Enid has another reason for wanting to leave the country in a hurry.
I read this at a pace as the women negotiate prejudice, snobbishness, barriers and phobias. Joyce doesn’t spare the at times graphic detail of two unsuitable women on a tropical island facing cyclones, eels, hunger and illness, trekking through the jungle, in search of a beetle that probably doesn’t exist.
A joyful book.
BUY THE BOOK
Read my reviews of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and Perfect and read the first paragraph of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, all by Rachel Joyce.
If you like this, try:-
‘The Signature of All Things’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
‘Doppler’ by Erlend Loe
‘Highland Fling’ by Nancy Mitford
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
MISS BENSON’S BEETLE by Rachel Joyce #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4UW via @SandraDanby