Monday, January 18, 2021

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Miss Benson's Beetle
by Rachel Joyce
Published November 2020 by Dial Press Trade
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1950. London is still reeling from World War II, and Margery Benson, a schoolteacher and spinster, is trying to get through life, surviving on scraps. One day, she reaches her breaking point, abandoning her job and small existence to set out on an expedition to the other side of the world in search of her childhood obsession: an insect that may or may not exist—the golden beetle of New Caledonia. When she advertises for an assistant to accompany her, the woman she ends up with is the last person she had in mind. Fun-loving Enid Pretty in her tight-fitting pink suit and pom-pom sandals seems to attract trouble wherever she goes. But together these two British women find themselves drawn into a cross-ocean adventure that exceeds all expectations and delivers something neither of them expected to find: the transformative power of friendship.

My Thoughts:
You know, I used to be up on what books were coming out; I knew which books to request advance copies of or to put on my library hold list ahead of publication. In the past few years, not so much. The beauty of that is that periodically I discover that a author who's books I've enjoyed has a new book out already that I The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was released in 2012 (although it took me until June 2013 to read it). When I reviewed Joyce's Perfect, three years later, I called Harold Fry charming, intimate and thoughtful. Of Perfect, I said that it was more sad than charming and had a greater sense of tension. In Miss Benson's Beetle, Joyce brings all of those things together. 

Sure the quirky female who doesn't fit in anywhere as a lead is starting to become all too common place and I couldn't help but wonder, when I started this book, if I could possible grow to love yet another misfit. The answer, I quickly learned, is "yes," in no small part because almost as soon as we are introduced to Margery, we feel sorry for her (can we just talk about how cruel girls can be?!). You can't help but cheer for her as she finally takes charge of her own life and sets off to fulfill her lifelong goal. 

As soon as Enid Pretty enters the picture, this could have been nothing more than a buddy story filled with hijinks. And that would have been a perfectly enjoyable book. But remember that tension I mentioned before? Joyce builds that up on a couple of fronts. There is a darkness to this book and, as with all of Joyce's books, not everyone is going to live happily ever after. 

As I was with Harold Fry, I was impressed with Joyce's ability to paint pictures of her characters and her settings. In addition to that tension building, Joyce also touches on a number of themes that keep this from being a "lite" read: homosexuality, suicide, depression, the effects of war. This would make a good book club selection. It certainly made an excellent first book of the year choice. 


  1. I haven't read any of Joyce's novels but have wanted to. Of all of hers, this one particularly calls to me. I am glad you enjoyed it, Lisa. I look forward to reading it someday.

    1. It's really got some of everything - sadness, humor, intrigue, and a wonderful story of friendship.

  2. Thank you for the review. I do hope I can find this book.

  3. I just started this one. I got the review copy some time ago so I am late to the party. I loved Harold Fry though. Looking forward to enjoying this one too.

    1. It's got some of everything - sadness, humor, intrigue, friendship, and making your dreams come true.