Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce is a charming, adventuresome, and witty story about two mismatched British women who embark on a journey in 1950 to find the undiscovered golden beetle that is rumored to be found in the French Island of New Caledonia.
When Margery Benson was ten years old, her father showed her a book of animals that had yet to be officially documented and discovered, including the golden beetle of New Caledonia. Margery becomes fascinated with beetles and spends ten years volunteering for the beetle specialist in the entomology department of the Museum of Natural History. She settles into a lonely spinster’s life and hates her job as a home economics teacher.
One day at school Margery has a breakdown when her students make fun of her. She leaves the school under circumstances that prevent her return. She decides at age 46, it is finally time to go in search of the golden beetle. She knows she will need an assistant. The first applicant for the position is Mr. Mundic, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome after being a POW in Burma. She quickly realizes he is not mentally stable. She ends up hiring Enid Pretty at the last minute to be her assistant.
Enid has plenty of secrets she is keeping from Margery, the least being that she cannot speak French, which is a job requirement. She also forgets to mention that she might be in some criminal trouble. While Margery is sullen, Enid is vivacious and talkative. Margery’s dream is to find the beetle. Enid’s dream is to become a mother, after suffering many miscarriages. The two set sail on an adventure that is zany, difficult, poignant, and uplifting. Unbeknown to either of them, Mr. Mundic has hidden away on the boat and is following Margery’s every move.
In their search for the beetle, these two polar opposites learn the value of friendship and fulfilling your vocation. They give each other the strength needed to fulfill their dreams and not to give up.
Two of my favorite quotes:
“No one else would’ve stuck by me, but you’re my friend, Marge. The thing about friends is that they don’t give up on one another. We’re a team. We’re stronger together than we are on our own.”
“It is easier for human beings to believe the worst things said about them than the kindest”.
4.5-stars, rounded up to 5. Book club recommended. This book was first published on July 23, 2020. The hardcover is 352 pages. I listened to the audio which was 12 hours and 5 minutes long.