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.
Every new book written by Rachel Joyce breaks the mould and this one is chaotic from page one onwards. A large, sensible spinster of 47 throws away her teaching career by running out of the classroom, stealing a boring pair of boots belonging to the Head Mistress. Miss Benson has finally decided to follow her dream. She wants to find a golden beetle possibly sighted many years earlier on the remote island of New Caledonia. Finding an assistant to accompany her on this difficult mission in 1950 proves very difficult so she is forced to take the most unsuitable candidate, Enid Pretty. Enid is ill-educated, frivolous and never stops talking. Their voyage to Australia is a disaster. Marjorie is seasick all the time while Enid flirts and parties. They are both unaware that someone is stalking them, yet both women are keeping secrets.
The story is gloriously funny despite the deep suffering the women endure. The snobbery and arrogance of colonial women in New Caledonia contrasts with the increasingly deep friendship between the two adventurers. The other significant character, Mundic, who had been a prisoner of war held by the Japanese, is a deeply troubled man, who lurks in the background threatening their success and happiness. His presence spoiled my enjoyment slightly but the developing relationship between Marjorie and Enid was beautifully crafted. The book has three endings; a glorious secret, a tragedy and a very satisfying conclusion.
Miss Benson’s Beetle on Amazon UK
My Review of Perfect by Rachel Joyce