It’s an absolute pleasure to take part in the BlogTour for Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce.
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her books have been translated into thirty -six languages and two are in development for film.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 201 2 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’201 4. Rachel was a Costa prize judge and University Big Read author in 2019.
She has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl. She lives with her family in Gloucestershire.
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About the book
It is 1950, two unlikely women set off on a hare-brained adventure to the other side of the world to try and find a beetle, and in doing so discover friendship and how to be their best of themselves. This is quintessential Joyce: at once poignant and playful, with huge heart and the same resonance, truth and lightness of touch as her phenomenally successful debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
Britain, post Second World War. I n a moment of madness Margery Benson abandons her sensible 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 pink hat and pompom sandals, is not the companion she had in mind. But together they will find themselves drawn into an adventure that exceeds all expectations. They must risk everything, break all the rules, but at the top of a red mountain they will discover who they truly are, and how to be the best of themselves.This is a novel 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 finally reaches her limit and decides to put all her resources and hopes into finding a golden beetle in the middle of nowhere. It’s the last fond memory she has of herself and her father – learning about the beetle. She recruits an assistant, which leads to an unusual pairing and a relationship that teaches her more about herself and life than she ever expected.
I loved this book. It has echoes of Eleanor Oliphant and The Other Half of Augusta Hope, both of which feature women who learn to love themselves as they are instead of being burdened by the way society expects them to look, behave and live. Miss Benson embarking upon her journey and seeking that particularly elusive beetle, thereby discovering herself, her worth, friendship and true sisterhood – it’s also a story of a woman accepting herself.
There is this interesting part of the story where Joyce actually confronts the reader, albeit subtly, with the foursome of roles in regards to being a woman. You have Miss Benson, the worn down spinster. Enid, the loose woman and rule-breaker. Dolly, the subservient woman itching to break free, and Mrs Pope the diplomat’s wife – the woman who becomes the foe of other women in an attempt to appease the patriarchal society. Judging other women instead of aiding and understanding, fitting in instead of standing up and being counted.
The quest to find the beetle becomes synonymous with acceptance of self, with a final confrontation with loss and with an acknowledgement of peace. The highest bar set by others takes on a note of irrelevance when the realisation dawns that you, or in this case Miss Benson, should be more interested in what makes you happy.
Joyce is a wonderful storyteller, who has a knack of capturing the absurd, the pain, the honesty and the core of humanity. Life isn’t clean – it’s dirty and it hurts, but now again we see the joy and feel the peace through the mists of life.
Buy Miss Benson’s Beetle at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: Doubleday pub date 23 July 2020 | £16.99 | Hardback. Ebook – Transworld Digital; pub date 23 July 2020. Buy at Amazon com. Buy at Waterstones.