If you are a regular follower (sending my love to you!) then you will already know how much I adored this book since I mentioned it last week in my June Wrap-Up post.
But I ask you, who can resist a book that opens with the words…
When Margery was ten, she fell in love with a beetle.
Fiction | Contemporary Fiction | Historical Fiction
It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist.
Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in mind. And yet together they will be drawn into an adventure that will exceed every expectation. They will risk everything, break all the rules, and at the top of a red mountain, discover their best selves.
This is a story that is less about what can be found than the belief it might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story but it is also about what it means to be a woman and a tender exploration of a friendship that defies all boundaries.
Miss Benson’s Beetle is so quirky, and heartfelt and inspiring and just wildly wonderful that I struggle to find the words to do it justice. I thoroughly enjoyed the period setting and Rachael Joyce is particularly good at writing the domestic details of the 1950’s that make you feel like you are really there.
I especially enjoyed all the facts about Beetles – I will never look at them the same way again! In fact during the reading of this book, I was out for a walk one day when a beetle, slightly bigger than a ladybird, landed on my arm. Instead of my instinctive reaction, which would be to brush it off and send it on it’s way, I paused for a split second, staid with the curiosity of being able to see this Coleoptera up close (Coleoptera literally means ‘folded wings’ in Latin). In that pause I marvelled in wonder at its shiny, cyan blue elytra (front wings that protect the more delicate back wings used for flying). It waved it’s antennae at me cheerfully and I stopped dead in the middle of the pavement smiling back like a right nerd! The little fella (Chrysolina Coerulans when I looked him up later), did two things for me; firstly this encounter created an even more immersive experience to the book – I got a sense of Margery’s wonder for myself. Secondly, he (my new beetle friend – see left) reminded me how many miracles there are in the world, right under our noses that we so often miss as we rush about our daily lives, becoming adults, loosing that childhood curiosity in the world around us. Life itself is a miracle and so is nature. So next time you spot a beetle – take a minute to get to know him/her and marvel in wonder at the world!
To add to this ignited passion for Beetles, reading this had me reaching for my Beetle Encyclopaedia… yes I do own one! Throughout Miss Benson’s Beetle Marge refers to a book which sounded so familiar that I went on a hunt to find it. Tucked away on a shelf in my house was a book which turned up in my christmas stocking when I was around 8 or 9 years old, a time in my life in which I was determined to work at the Natural History Museum in London (I’d just been and had never seen anything so wonderful). It was lovely to look through this book again with fresh eyes. Some books in our lives hold so much more than the contents advertised on the cover…
I loved Marge, I did. But I really loved Enid Pretty. From the description of her, I visualised a cross between the singer Doris Day and Lottie from Disney’s The Princess & The Frog – are you getting the idea…?! Not just their characteristic yellow hair and pink suits, but their outlook, mannerisms, make-up and smiles too. I recently wrote a post titled Meet The Book Blogger Tag, one of the questions I answered was: Who’s your all time favourite book character? I said Cassandra from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (who I do love). But at that point I had not yet read Miss Benson’s Beetle! Now I really want to say Enid Pretty. She is quite probably the best character I have ever met in literature, and will stay with me for a very long time. She just seemed to leap off the page – and her voice! It was so there… Oh Marge, you have the legs for it.
To top it all off, Rachel Joyce included something that I think should be a necessity for all books – an interview with the characters! At the back of the book, where you might find reading group questions or an interview with the author, there was instead an interview with Marge and Enid – with questions asked by the author herself. I really loved this. If the characters weren’t real enough before, this certainly sealed it. I don’t want to say anymore for fear of spoiling it – but seriously! Wouldn’t you just love to be able to ask your favourite book characters all about themselves and their journey?
One thing I’d like to add, which I don’t think gives away any of the story, is that it’s not as much of a cosy read as the blurb makes it seem. At the heart of it Marge and Enid are trying to outrun their pasts, for various reasons. The dry wit and humour of the book helps to tackle some pretty emotional experiences. Plus, adding to the tension is that fact that Marge and Enid haven’t factored in the consequences of a stalker…
Above all it was a beautiful story of adventure, friendship, courage, bravery, a celebration of women and, in Enid’s words, finding your vocation…
My Mum and I read this alongside each other, swapping my birthday copy of the book back and forth between us. A lot was going on in our lives at the time so it took a while to complete. Subsequently we feel this actually added to our overall enjoyment of the book. It was easy to pick up and put down while still keeping up, and it meant we lived the adventure for much longer, sharing in the highs and lows of the characters. On finishing it we really felt as if we had got to know Marge and Enid and been on their adventure with them. We did not want it to end!
I hope I’ve inspired you to read this book, and if you have already met Marge and Enid, do drop me a line in the comments!