Review: Miss Benson’s Beetle

“It was so easy to find yourself doing the things in life you weren’t passionate about, to stick with them even when you didn’t want them and they hurt. But now the time for dreaming and wishing was over, and she was going. She was traveling to the other side of the world. It wasn’t just the ship that had been unmoored. It was her entire sense of herself.”

Rachel Joyce 

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce
334 pages
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction
Published by The Dial Press, 2020
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 
Re-readability: I don’t think I’ll return to this one. 
Reviewed by Indiana

Synopsis from the publisher: 

“It is 1950. London is still reeling from World War II, and Margery Benson, a schoolteacher and spinster, is trying to get through life, surviving on scraps. One day, she reaches her breaking point, abandoning her job and small existence to set out on an expedition to the other side of the world in search of her childhood obsession: an insect that may or may not exist—the golden beetle of New Caledonia. When she advertises for an assistant to accompany her, the woman she ends up with is the last person she had in mind. Fun-loving Enid Pretty in her tight-fitting pink suit and pom-pom sandals seems to attract trouble wherever she goes. But together these two British women find themselves drawn into a cross-ocean adventure that exceeds all expectations and delivers something neither of them expected to find: the transformative power of friendship.”

This book was everything the premise promised. It had compelling characters, who were quirky and had richly developed backgrounds. It had adventure – with the long journey from bustling London to the mountains of New Caledonia – and mystery. It also dealt with the horrors from World War II and the impact it had on the mental health of its victims. 

Above all, there was a hard-won friendship between two seemingly incompatible women at the heart of the story.

Everything from the pacing to the plot to the setting was done well. It’s the sort of story that sweeps you up from the first chapter and doesn’t release you until the last page. It came along right when I was looking for a cozy adventure and it delivered. 

However, I didn’t give it a five-star rating because I found the ending (particularly with what happens to a certain protagonist) completely unnecessary. It soured my enjoyment of the book for a bit, and after reading the acknowledgments it sounds like some of Joyce’s family members felt the same way.

I think it’s still worth reading, though I don’t think I can return to it simply because of the ending. 

If you’ve read it, how did you feel about how the author wrapped everything up?

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