EXCERPT: When Margery was ten, she fell in love with a beetle.
It was a bright summer’s day and all the windows of the rectory were open. She had an idea about sailing her wooden animals across the floor, two by two, but the set had belonged to her brothers once and most of them were either coloured-in or broken. Some were missing altogether. She was wondering if, in the circumstances, you could pair a three legged camel and a bird with spots when her father came out of his study.
‘Do you have a moment, old girl?’ he said. ‘There’s something I want to show you.’
She put down the camel and the bird, and she followed him. She would have stood on her head if he’d asked.
Her father went to his desk. He sat there, nodding and smiling. She could tell he didn’t have a proper reason for calling her: he just wanted her to be with him for a while. Since her four brothers had left for the war, he often called her. Or she’d find him loitering at the foot of the stairs, searching for something without seeming to know what it was. His eyes were the kindest in the world, and the bald top of his head gave him a naked look.
‘I think I have something that might interest you, old girl,’ he said. ‘Nothing much, but maybe you will like it.’
ABOUT THIS BOOK: Margery Benson’s life ended the day her father walked out of his study and never came back. Forty years later, abandoning a dull job, she advertises for an assistant. The successful candidate is to accompany Margery on an expedition to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist. Enid Pretty is not who she had in mind. But together they will find themselves drawn into an adventure that exceeds all Margery’s expectations, eventually finding new life at the top of a red mountain.
MY THOUGHTS: I desperately wanted to love Miss Benson and her beetle. I didn’t. I adored The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy: it sits firmly in my top ten books for forever. I liked, but did not love The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. But Miss Benson’s Beetle struck me as faintly ridiculous. The characters are not characters, but caricatures. The whole thing played out like an Abbott and Costello movie. A slapstick comedy that didn’t make me laugh. It didn’t make me cry either. I could picture someone like Mary Pickford playing Enid, and hear the dramatic piano music coming from the pit. But I could feel nothing for the characters, and even less for the plot. Farcical is the word that comes to mind.
There were glimmers of Rachel Joyce’s beautiful writing style, but only glimpses. My heart would soar with each one, then come crashing back down to earth.
Maybe it’s me, because the rest of the world appears to love this book. Reading is a very personal subjective experience, and not every book is for every reader. So, if you enjoyed the extract, and the plot summary interests you, please do read Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce. I hope that you are one of the many who love this book.
There are good things in it: life lessons like not judging people by appearance, and waiting until you have gotten to know them before deciding whether or not you like them.
But, ultimately, this was not a book for me. And I am sad about that.
‘I have begun to feel comforted by the thought of all we do not know, which is nearly everything.’
‘It was as much use as a chocolate teapot.’
‘She experienced the dense feeling…..as if she was always on the other side of a flawed glass wall and seeing the truth way after it was too late.’
‘Her favourite time was still that brief stretch before full daylight when silver filtered into the sky, light blossomed where the stars had been, the air was sweet and fresh, and everything came back to life. It seemed full of such hope.’
‘We are not the things that happened to us. We can be what we like.’
THE AUTHOR: Rachel Joyce has written over 20 original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, and major adaptations for both the Classic Series, Woman’s Hour and also a TV drama adaptation for BBC 2. In 2007 she won the Tinniswood Award for best radio play. She moved to writing after a twenty-year career in theatre and television, performing leading roles for the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, The Royal Court, and Cheek by Jowl, winning a Time Out Best Actress award and the Sony Silver. She lives with her family in Gloucestershire.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Doubleday for providing a digital ARC of Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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