Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce: A review
I cannot recall the last book that gave me such uncomplicated joy in reading it as Miss Benson's Beetle did. This story of two utterly mismatched English women and their hazardous trip to New Caledonia to search for a golden beetle that has never been found by science hit all the right spots for me. It was well-written. The scientific research necessary to provide all the information about beetles as well as other things was quite impressive. The story was told with a lot of laugh-out-loud humor. The plot was well-constructed to keep those pages turning. And perhaps most importantly, the characters were well-developed and were people the reader could believe in and like. I had not read anything by Rachel Joyce before, but I will be looking for her name on works in the future.
Rachel Joyce has written a gloriously offbeat bit of historical fiction featuring two characters who have been damaged by what happened to them in the past and who are healed and made whole by their friendship. The secondary characters are rendered with equal care. In spite of the fact that he becomes a stalker of Margery and causes almost unbearable damage, it is impossible not to feel empathy for that former P.O.W. Even the obnoxious and bitchy Mrs. Pope, the consul's wife, is given personality and depth. Joyce obviously takes great care with her characterizations and it is a strong point of this novel. Moreover, her plot offers real insight into the lives of women in this period, the lingering tragedy of war, and the power of simply continuing to put one foot in front of the other and take care of daily things. As Margery realizes at one point: "There was always darkness and in this darkness was unspeakable suffering, and yet there were also the daily things - there was even the search for a gold beetle - and while they could not cancel the appalling horror, they were as real."
That is a perception that could just as well apply to our time.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars