Until now, Margery hadn’t shared her father’s love of insects… Yet as her finger met the golden beetle, something happened: a spark seemed to fly out and her future opened. She went hot and cold. She would find the beetle. It was that simple.Miss Benson’s Beetle
Margery Benson is working in a school teaching home economics to a group of girls who don’t want to listen to her. It is 1950 and England is still recovering from the War. The girls in her class are passing round a note, a cartoon of Margery as a “lumpy old woman… Her nose, the girls had done as a potato, while her hair was mad bird’s nest.” She sees the drawing and something inside Margery snaps: she steals a pair of boots from another teacher, she picks up a few other random items from the School, including a fire extinguisher, she heads home knowing she cannot return to that job. She remembers the golden beetle her father had shown her in a book as a child and she decides she must go to New Caledonia to find it.
Realising she cannot go alone, Margery advertises for an assistant and eventually hires Enid Pretty who said, in her notes written on the back of old shopping lists, that she wants to ‘Liv life and see the worlb!’ They are two very different women with very different attitudes on life and how it should be lived. But, together, the odd couple set sail from Britain to Australia where they will then travel on to New Caledonia to search for the golden beetle.
As the ship slid free, the band on the jetty struck up with a round of ‘Rule Britannia’, and the passengers hurled down hundreds of thousands of streamers that filled the dock in a giant web, while Enid whooped and blew kisses, ‘Goodbye, ol’ Blighty!’ After that, Margery stayed on deck, watching as everything she knew pulled away and lost shape – the docks, the coastline, fishing boats – until even Britain was a small grey hat on the horizon. She was doing it – she was finally doing the thing she’d dreamt about as a child, the thing she’d given up on in her twenties. And deep inside she felt a leap of excitement because it was finally happening and she could hardly believe it. It was so easy to find yourself doing the things in life you weren’t passionate about, to stick with them even when you didn’t want them and they hurt. But now the time for dreaming and wishing was over, and she was going. She was travelling to the other side of the world. It wasn’t just the ship that had been unmoored. It was her entire sense of herself.Miss Benson’s Beetle
I absolutely loved this book. It was pure joy from start to finish. It was full of adventure, exploration and friendship, as well as overcoming other people’s judgements of you. Both Enid and Margery are judged by every person they meet on their travels, including each other, but they find a way to work together and learn that you can never truly judge a book by its cover.
Rachel Joyce has so thoroughly researched what New Caledonia would have been like in the 1950s, and what the journey there would have been like, and from that has created a story so gripping and enjoyable. She mentions in the acknowledgements that when she began writing she knew nothing about beetles or New Caledonia and I am so in awe of the amount of research she must have done to create such a rich and vibrant world.
As the sun lifted, the sky flashed with bright colours that belonged to other things. Traffic-light green, birthday-candle pink, egg-yolk yellow, pillar-box red.Miss Benson’s Beetle
I loved the language and the descriptions of foreign and exotic places – you really feel as though you are treading on jungle and mountainous terrain as you go through it. It keeps the tension going right to the very last page. I didn’t want it to end!
I never would have guessed a book about beetles would capture my imagination so much (this was another one of my mum’s recommendations – for which I am so grateful!). It is a book that has sat on my shelves for a couple of years, each time I have seen it I gave thought: Ooh yeah, I must read that next, or I’ll definitely come back to that one later. The book has sat there quietly and patiently, waiting for me to choose it. And now that I have picked it up and read it I feel so guilty that such an incredible story has had to sit there for so long and wait for me to give it my attention. But, now it has finally had it, I want to encourage the world to go and read it!