Miss Benson's Beetle: Book summary and reviews of Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Miss Benson's Beetle

by Rachel Joyce

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce X
Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce
Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

From the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes an uplifting, irresistible novel about two women on a life-changing adventure, where they must risk everything, break all the rules, and discover their best selves - together.

She's going too far to go it alone.

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.

Paperback original

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review
"Miss Benson's Beetle attracted me for being suitably different from the rest of Rachel Joyce's work: much of it takes place on the high seas or in New Caledonia rather than in England, and it is about two unlikely female adventurers who become dear friends as they chase their dreams in the early 1950s. Margery Benson reminded me of Olive Kitteridge: a larger, older woman who doesn't say or do what she's expected to. Her lingering childhood fascination with a (possibly legendary) golden beetle spurs her to, in her mid-forties, leave her home ec teacher job in disgrace and plan an expedition to a French-run island halfway across the world. Enid Pretty, the twentysomething blonde bombshell who signs on as her field assistant at the last minute, is running from her past and desperate to have a baby.

The twin themes of the book are trauma and obsession, but it is a light-hearted read for all that. My main issue was that the subplots about a POW with PTSD and a murder investigation back in England draw attention away from the central story. Partly because of this, the novel felt interminable." - Rebecca Foster

Other Reviews
"Joyce's sparkling latest pops with grit, resilience, and the power of friendship...[her] graceful touch and cutting humor undercut the potential for mawkishness and give the characters a rich complexity and depth. With a plucky protagonist and plenty of action, this is a winner." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[Miss Benson's Beetle is] teeming with screwball comedic scenes deftly choreographed by Joyce. A hilarious jaunt into the wilderness of women's friendship and the triumph of outrageous dreams." - Kirkus Reviews

"As ever, Rachel Joyce made me laugh out loud, then weep for the battered majesty of ordinary human beings. Two unlikely heroines, their strange love, a pitiful villain, and a life-affirming search for miraculous beauty...all combine in a wild, hopeful picaresque journey into the soul." - Daily Mail (UK)

"I fell in love with the unlikely friendship between two wildly different women—their devotion to each other as they trek up and down mountains in someplace called New Caledonia is a hysterical delight. This novel made me realize how hungry I am for stories about women loving each other into being their best selves." - Ann Napolitano, author of Dear Edward

"Miss Benson's Beetle is a pure joyride. Sweet, witty, poignant, filled with intrigue and unlikely friendship, it's a perfect escape. I loved it." - Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours and The Book of Lost Friends

"Whatever you may look for in a novel—adventure, fully realized characters, humor, poignancy, a chance to learn something new—is all here in Miss Benson's Beetle. What's also here is the particular grace and humanity that Rachel Joyce brings to her work. She reminds us that we all are broken in one way or another, but that we are capable—oftentimes in unexpected ways—of helping to make ourselves and others whole. This beautifully written novel is an absolute delight." - Elizabeth Berg, author of The Story of Arthur Truluv

This information about Miss Benson's Beetle was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Cloggie Downunder

Once again, Rachel Joyce does not disappoint.
Miss Benson’s Beetle is the third stand-alone novel by award-winning British author, Rachel Joyce. When, at the age of forty-six, Miss Margery Benson comes to truly understand the low regard in which she is held at the school where she teaches a class of ungrateful girls home economics, she makes a snap decision: she will fulfill the vow she made back in 1914 when she was a girl of ten.

She places an ad in The Times: “Wanted. French- speaking assistant for expedition to other side of the world. All expenses paid.” The right applicant will help her find the Golden Beetle of New Caledonia, to prove its existence to the entomologists at the Natural History Museum.

She’d been shown it in a book, Incredible Creatures, by her beloved father, just before he died: “’Do you think they’re real?’ she said. Her father nodded. ‘I have begun to feel comforted,’ he said, ‘by the thought of all we do not know, which is nearly everything.’ With that upside-down piece of wisdom, he turned another page.”

The favoured candidate pulls out at the last minute, leaving Margery no choice but to accept the one she considered most unsuitable, Enid Pretty, a dyslexic, over-made-up, endlessly chatty bottle-blonde with a talent for charming her way through obstacles (sometimes via cash and cleavage). An observer describes her as a trickster.

Enid, keeping a tight hold on her red valise, is very eager to join in Margery’s expedition, but clearly harbouring a secret or two. “Enid was still anathema to Margery, like trying to read a map upside down. She rushed through life as if she was being chased. Even things whose whole point was slowness, like waking up, for instance, after a heavy night’s sleep, she took at a lick.” Yet, when Margery really needs her help, she freely gives it.

Margery and Enid arrive, but will they find their beetle? “She hadn’t a clue why she was lying in a hammock on the other side of the world, already half crippled, looking for a beetle that had never been found – she could die out here, under these alien stars, and no one would know.” And quite unbeknownst to then both, a rejected candidate, a former POW with a severe case of PTSD is hot on their trail, his intentions a little vague.

What a wonderful story Joyce gives the reader! Quirky characters who can irritate and endear; a setting so well rendered that the heat, humidity and foreignness are palpable; and several secrets gradually revealed. Laugh-out-loud (almost slapstick) moments are balanced with lump-in-the-throat occasions and wise words: “We are not the things that happened to us. We can be what we like”.

Central to the story is the unlikely friendship that forms: “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” but also explored are grief and guilt, independence and self-worth. Once again, Rachel Joyce does not disappoint.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Random House UK Transworld Publishing.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Rachel Joyce Author Biography

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 new novel, Miss Benson's Beetle, is out now. Rachel's 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 has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview
Link to Rachel Joyce's Website

Other books by Rachel Joyce at BookBrowse
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry jacket
  • The Music Shop jacket

5 more...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more historical fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.25 per month.

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting
    Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting
    by Clare Pooley
    For the many years that I've been reading, one realization has always come to mind for me after ...
  • Book Jacket: We Had to Remove This Post
    We Had to Remove This Post
    by Hanna Bervoets
    It's not about money. Kayleigh, the protagonist and narrator of We Had to Remove This Post, a newly ...
  • Book Jacket: River of the Gods
    River of the Gods
    by Candice Millard
    The Nile River has provided vital resources for millennia, serving as a source of water, food and ...
  • Book Jacket: Horse
    by Geraldine Brooks
    Geraldine Brooks creates a powerful backstory for 19th-century thoroughbred racehorse Lexington, ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
by Maggie O'Farrell
"Of all the stories...about Shakespeare’s life, [Hamnet] is so gorgeously written that it transports you."
The Boston Globe

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Lies I Tell
    by Julie Clark

    The new thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Flight!

  • Book Jacket

    Jackie & Me
    by Louis Bayard

    Master storyteller Louis Bayard delivers a surprising portrait of a young Jackie Kennedy as we've never seen her before.

Win This Book!
Win Where the Crawdads Sing

Win a signed copy of Where the Crawdads Sing

In celebration of the movie release on July 15, we have three signed copies to give away.



Solve this clue:

T O Thing W H T F I F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.