Title: Miss Benson's Beetle
Author: Rachel Joyce
Publication Information: The Dial Press. 2020. 352 pages.
ISBN: 0593230957 / 978-0593230954
Opening Sentence: "When Margery was ten, she fell in love with a beetle."
Favorite Quote: "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."
The description of this book sounds like one of many that have been written about a Character of a certain age who makes a decision to dramatically change his or her life. The change is either forced upon them, or at least triggered by something. The quirky and more often than not likable characters live their own almost "coming of age" Story, finding new meaning and a new path.
The opening chapter provides the Margery Benson's history. One day, when Margery is ten, her world is altered forever. The book begins with four deaths and a suicide as seen through the eyes of a ten year old who does not quite process what has just happened.
Fast forward to the present. An incident at the school where Margery teaches causes her to seek out her childhood dream - to catch and identify the golden beetle of New Caledonia. That beetle holds the promise of her childhood and the memory of her father. She decides to travel there on her quest. She advertises for an assistant. The assistant she ends up with, Enid Pretty, has a story and a quest all her own.
The journey begins.
Despite the dark beginning, the story still has the possibility of being a journey of friendship and self-discovery for both these women. "You might travel to the other side of the world, but in the end it made no difference: whatever devastating unhappiness was inside you would come too." Both of their back stories are slowly revealed, and both are tragic. Yet, somehow, the characters never quite become real. They seem more caricatures. The story of the journey also does not ring true. The entire things seems unbelievable. Yes, it's fiction. However, to invest in a story, it takes the possibility of something about it ringing true and resonating. Unfortunately, for me, I cannot find that in this story.
In addition, this book differs immensely from other in this genre in that it introduces villains, including a stalker willing to follow his prey across the globe. Unfortunately, the book does not crossover and become a thriller either. I am not sure why this story line is included at all. It does not seem to add anything to the overarching theme of the book. It may have made sense if this character ended up on his own journey of self-discovery and somehow the lives and journeys of these three individuals intersect.
They do intersect, but not at all like I imagine for a book such as this one. To say that the climax is shocking and unexpected is an understatement. Why? Just why? This character is depicted as a soldier, a former prisoner of war, and someone who suffers from what appears to be mental health challenges. The depiction and the role this character plays in this book is a disservice to the members of our armed forces for whom this suffering is their reality. Again, I ask. Why?
Unfortunately, I cannot find my way to the point or message of this story. I am clearly not the right reader for this book even though I have enjoyed other books by Rachel Joyce.