Friday 15 January 2021

Miss Benson's Beetle

Finished January 10
Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce

I've loved all Rachel Joyce's books that I've read, and this is no exception. The story is set in 1950, with two main characters. The titular Miss Benson, Margery, is in her late 40s, single, and teaching domestic science at a girl's school. This is not how she envisioned her life. She hasn't been happy for years, and for her the last straw happens when she finds her students passing around a caricature of her and laughing. She breaks, first leaving the classroom and then taking random items as she leaves the school, never to return. As she thinks back on her life, she reflects on a book her father showed her when she was a child with a picture of a rumoured beetle in a far away land. That picture led to a lifelong fascination with beetles, and she is now drawn back to that moment of captivation and happiness and decides to go look for that beetle. 
There is much preparation to be done before going on such an expedition, and Miss Benson orders supplies, sells some of her belongings and advertises for a paid assistant. The first applicant she interviews is a war vet who had been a Japanese POW. He is twitchy and a mansplaining type, and Miss Benson knows that he is not what she wants. One woman looks promising, but her rigid organization gets her ferreting out Miss Benson's secret and bailing out with little time to substitute, so she ends up reaching out to her final applicant, Enid Pretty. Enid is a force to be reckoned with, able to make almost any situation turn in her favour, and yet completely unsuitable for what Miss Benson was looking for. 
Given their times, the journey to their destination, the northern reaches of New Caledonia, is long and sometimes with delays. As they travel by ship, flying boat, motor vehicle, and their own feet, they get to know one another extremely well, and gradually open up to each other about their pasts and what led them to their present. 
Miss Benson is a lonely woman, with an unhappy childhood, a disappointing coming-of -age experience, and a a lost dream. She is a rule follower, a person who does what is expected of her, until she realizes that she must stand up for herself and her dreams.
Enid Pretty is a charmer, a woman who has compromised for a comfortable life, and who has seen that fall apart. She, too, has a dream that she hasn't been able to bring to fruition, although she has faced most obstacles with a determination that overcomes them. 
I liked seeing this friendship develop and each woman come into her own and the encouragement and support they had for each other. I read this book quickly, almost unable to put it down as I needed to know what happened to theses two extraordinary women. 
The book ends with an interesting interview, an explanation of the inspiration for the book, and some discussion questions. Great choice for a book club.


  1. Sounds charming, thanks for sharing your thoughts

  2. I heard about it but I don't know how it escaped my TBR, this is fixed now ;)