“The differences between them – all those things she’d once found so infuriating – she now accepted. Being Enid’s friend meant there were always going to be surprises. However close they were it didn’t entitle her to Enid’s memories and neither did it allow her to be part of Enid’s life before they met. Being a friend meant accepting those unknowable things. It was by placing herself side by side with Enid that Margery had finally begun to see the true outline of herself. And she knew it now: Enid was her friend.”
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.
I finished this book while in the car on the way to The Vyne (a National Trust place near Basingstoke) to see my 19-month old granddaughter Clara for the first time since February – and before you comment I wasn’t driving. Needless to say I was already feeling emotional. By the end – of the book that is – I was in tears. The journey wasn’t that bad.
I have already decided that Miss Benson’s Beetle will be in my Top 8 books of 2020 Part Two. It is simply stunning. Unlike my usual feast of psychological thrillers and police procedurals, this book will make you laugh and cry in equal measures, though towards the end you will probably cry and cry like I did.
Margery Benson and Enid Pretty are two most unlikely travelling companions. They have nothing in common. In fact Margery really doesn’t want Enid – she doesn’t even like her – but it’s all she has left after the other applicants for the job of entomologist’s assistant were a disaster. So now she is stuck with her.
Margery is middle-aged, staid to the point of uptight and with no experience of a true loving relationship. Enid, on the other hand, has had plenty. Relationships – though not always loving – apart from Perce. And she is young enough to be Margery’s daughter – just about. Enid irritates Margery no end with her silly pink travel suit, her yellow hair and her pom pom sandals. Then there are the numerous suitcases Enid brings with her. But mysterious of all is the red valise that she never lets out of her sight. It carries her past and her most treasured secrets, but these are none of Margery’s business.
This will turn out to be an adventure like no other. They will travel by ship to Australia, board a flying boat to New Caledonia and then embark on a treacherous overland journey to Poum in a stolen land rover. Then finally they will discover the ramshackle bungalow that will become their home until they find the mysterious gold beetle – that may or may not exist.
The two women will argue and cry and hug and then argue again. They will bond and bicker and disagree until they find a common goal and then they will become the closest of friends on a journey of discovery that will unite them forever.
This story will stay with me for a very long time. It’s warm and funny and sad and evokes every emotion you can think of. I loved it.
Many thanks to @annecater for letting me be part of #RandomThingsTours
About the Author
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 longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ 2014. 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.