There is something about Rachel Joyce stories, that have a quietness about them which stays with you for a very long time. I remember the beauty of her debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and I think this book captures the essence of that book, that new adventure not just for Joyce but for Harold Fry as well. This is a new adventure.
This time we meet Margery Benson, spinster, late forties who discovered an interest in a particular golden beetle. It was said to exist but no one had seen or even found it. This would be her work, but events took another path and she finds herself in a job she dislikes.
When a case of stolen boots, forces her to reevaluate her life she abandons everything and puts all she has into an expedition to find said golden beetle.
Enter Enid Pretty.
Pink Suit, bright yellow hair, pom poms on her shoes and clutching a red valise.
She is the last person you would expect to see Margery with but somehow they make it half way round the world to New Caledonia. Sometimes together and sometimes apart but there is something about two unlikely people forming a friendship and it surviving.
Enid is everything Margery isn’t – a rule breaker, a chancer, a woman with secrets.
Margery is everything Enid isn’t – staid, organised, a woman with one chance to discover the beetle and leave her mark on the world.
This book is a journey of the impossible and believing in trying to do something is just as important as the end result, whether it be positive or negative. What has happened in the past is forgotten as these two unlikely women form a bond, a bond which has to suffer blood, toil, sweat and tears in equal measure from both of them.
There are ups and clearly a lot of downs on this quest, and not only do we glimpse a life of a entomologist but we see a life far away from home. It may seem the dawn of a new age in 1950/1951 but the echoes of both wars still resonate and they affect nearly everyone they come into contact with. Women have a very different role to play, there time has yet to come and perhaps Margery and Enid are just the beginning of the change. Who knows.
With detailed research clearly undertaken in terms of the landscape of New Caledonia as well as the research into all the insects and the treatment and recording of them, the book teaches you as well as gives you a story that you can believe in and characters you put your trust in.
A quiet book with a big impact. Rachel Joyce’s writing at her best in my humble opinion.
Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.
Miss Benson’s Beetle is published on 23rd July.