It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end 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 her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in mind. And yet together they will be drawn into an adventure that will exceed every expectation. They will risk everything, break all the rules, and at the top of a red mountain, discover their best selves.
This is a story 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.
I have been incredibly lucky this year to have been offered some wonderful books to review and this gorgeous novel is one of them. When I started Miss Benson’s Beetle, I had just read two wonderful books in a row and was worried I would suffer a book reading hangover! What actually happened was that I fell head over heels in love with this novel, with Margery and Enid and the world they inhabited. Turning the last pages actually hurt, because I didn’t want it to end.
Why? So many reasons! The story is simple and yet profoundly moving, elegantly written, managing to make me cry tears of both joy and sadness. On the surface it’s an adventure story, one about an unlikely friendship between two very different women, but it’s this and much more. Rachel Joyce has delivered a tale about redemption and the potential in us all to live our dreams, if we have a friend to say, don’t give up.
Margery and Enid are both in their own ways lost souls, lonely, ignored and subject to ridicule, bring them together and though the journey is not straightforward, it is a funny, sad, life affirming tale of two truly wonderful characters. I don’t think I have laughed with, cried with any two characters such as these, in what seems like forever! Margery and Enid, one shy, intellectual and sheltered, the other flighty, charming and ever so crazy, wormed their way into my reading soul and they will forever stay snuggled there. Each goes on a journey that sometimes resembles an Ealing Comedy, but has the emotional depth and sensitivity of Sarah Winman’s Tin Man and I loved that book beyond reason, so it shows how wonderful I found Miss Benson’s Beetle to be.
Rachel Joyce’s observation’s about friendship are both powerful and understated and Miss Benson’s Beetle reads with gentle ease. She made me care, she gave me characters I fell in love with, she delivered hope and wonder all tied up in a novel about two wonderful women. No need here for a alpha hero, no need for them to be recused, they have each other and I will never forget them.
Why not also consider ordering it from your local Indie bookshop, many of whom desperately need our support.
About the author
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 short listed for the Commonwealth Book prize and long listed for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 201 2 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’201 4. 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.