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Summary

It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist. 

Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in mind. And yet together they will be drawn into an adventure that will exceed every expectation. They will risk everything, break all the rules and, at the top of a red mountain, discover their best selves.

This is a story that is less about what can be found than the belief it might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story, but it is also about what it means to be a woman and a tender exploration of a friendship that defies all boundaries.

©2020 Rachel Joyce (P)2020 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Miss Benson's Beetle

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Finding the way

I've followed Rachel Joyce since her first strangely wonderful book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and Miss Benson's Beetle is just as wonderful. What arresting opening few paragraphs! Young Margery hears her father take a phone call during WW1 muttering only 'ALL of them? ALL of them?' and then hears the gunshot after he goes in silence into the garden. Her four brothers had all died on the same day at Mons and her mother spends the rest of her life mainly sitting in her chair. (as well she might).

Rachel Joyce's characters have experienced impossibly terrible life-crushing grief in their pasts, and have led diminished lives as a consequence. But there ARE second chances in life and extraordinary experiences enable new lives to bud and bloom. Margery is obsessed about finding the golden beetle in New Colorado which he father had told her about and after her mother's death, she sets off with the most unlikely assistant: garrulous Enid with her dyed yellow hair, ridiculous shoes and pink clothes who knows nothing about beetles let alone the other side of the world.

Enid's life has been rackety and tough - exactly how tough develops throughout the story, her deep longing for a baby having been thwarted by miscarriages and a sick husband being only one part of it. As the two women embark on this crazy buddy caper, an unlikely bond deeper and stronger than either of them have experienced with any other human being grows between them. There's comedy as well as tenderness and humanity which never dips into sentimentality. The story is jam-packed with adventure, danger, suspense and beauty; the plot constantly growing in complexity as the backgrounds of Margery and Enid are explored. Another theme is Mr Mundic who originally wanted to lead Margery's expedition and who remains an unseen presence until the end. (What an end!) His background working on the Burma railway and the confused trauma in which he lives is astoundingly vivid and empathetic. The last chapter is 30 years later - and Rachel Joyce still has wonderful surprises in this glorious redemptive story.

Juliet Stevenson is of course a great narrator with some scenes (you'll know which ones!) so real that you can hardly bear to listen. I found though that she over-did Enid's harsh accent - the cultural differences between the two women didn't need to be made so obvious. But that's just a quibble. One of the best books I've listened to for quite a while.

37 people found this helpful

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Excellent story of female friendship

This was a remarkable story of friendship and exploration. Juliet Stevenson is one of my favourite narrators and was a joy to listen to

19 people found this helpful

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What a beautiful book!

Beautifully written and perfectly read. It made me laugh out loud and brought tears to my eyes. You must listen to this one.

15 people found this helpful

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Utterly Delightful

I could have carried on listening to this adventure forever. Such an unlikely and comical friendship and a tale that takes you somewhere you’ve barely even noticed on the globe. Juliet Stephenson reads as expertly as ever.

12 people found this helpful

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Favourite Book of all time

I absolutely loved every single word of this book and listened to it over 3 days. So funny and yet so sad as well . Juliet Stevenson’s narration was first class. I could easily listen to it again and again.

10 people found this helpful

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A delight. So well written (& read) loved it

I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. I read and listen to many many books and was looking for something a little different to crime thrillers, historic fiction or chic lit - all ok but I wanted something more. This was perfect. I enjoyed the characters, the pace, the developing story alongside the back stories and it made me smile and chuckle to myself at times too. As an audible book the narrator can break even the best novel - so pleased that Juliet Stevenson did this one, couldn’t have been a better choice. I know they won’t see it but all the same a massive thank you to the author.

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Must listen to!

As usual a wonderful story impeccably read, and a joy from start to finish sigh!

8 people found this helpful

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Margery and Enid’s great adventure

I greatly enjoyed Rachel Joyce’s previous novels as she has an affinity to understand emotions and write thoughtfully. Set in the 1950s post war, with all the foibles of rationing still in place in the UK and the ridiculous oppression of women despite their heroic efforts in the war where they are still having to fight for their worthiness in society.

The principal character Margery Benson is a rather old fashioned, stuffy late 40’s spinster who I did not take to immediately. Enid Pretty aka Nancy Collet was a likeable if absent minded character. However as the book progresses and their lives are slowly revealed, you see these women are so different but so similar.

The title and search for the elusive beetle is small fry compared to the observations of the two women’s spirit, resilience and hope, which Ms Joyce’s captures so well in writing.

Juliet Stevenson narrates beautifully and I will agree with one other reviewer who said she made Enid a little too common. However it did not spoil anything for me personally.

The other characters in the book are well drawn you will recognize many of them in your lives with just different names.

The incredible bond that flows through this book of these two unlikely women is gentle as it is wonderful.

Great book highly recommend

7 people found this helpful

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Marvellous

This tale is real escapism.
The characters are engaging.
I really didn’t want it to end

6 people found this helpful

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Loved it

narration fabulous. Lots of wonderful moments/ insights in the story. I could see it all vividly.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Tracey
  • 24-09-20

One of those never put down books.

A wonderful story. One of those books you don't want to end. You want to hear more of their adventure the more it develops. Just when you think thats it...another twist happens...and keeps you wanting more.
Love the friendship they develop and the discovery that you never too old or too young to go on that adventure. You never know what lies ahead of you don't take that first step.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Jane F. Clifton
  • 17-11-21

An unexpected pleasure

Such a twee title I didn't think I'd like it. But it was narrated by Juliet Stevenson which is always a good sign.
And I loved it! Such a wonderful, quirky story. Yes, nostalgic in some ways but so beautifully told and with enough twists and turns to stop you getting out of the car before the end of the chapter. It inspired me to read more by Rachel Joyce and I have now ripped through The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - not so many laughs but still a great listen.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-04-22

ahmazing!

it checked all my boxes !
adventure
thrill
devotion
simplicity
nature
human bonding
emotions
failure
second wave
determination
human faults
human valour

this book will remain with me for long. narrator has a huge part as well
great work.
thank you for the pleasure of listening.

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  • Sarah Vaulbert
  • 25-02-22

Wonderful to listen to. It’s really well read

Wonderful to listen to. It’s really well read.loved the characters and the story. Mrs Benson is a tough nut and she’s wonderful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 29-01-22

Such a wonderful experience

Loved it! One cannot help to experience all the emotions with the characters. I
I laughed out loud and even cried a little with them. Although it is a post-war story with some serious themes, it does not drag you down. It is quite different from other hostorical fiction books. The story is an absolute adventure!

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  • Nicki
  • 10-01-22

An unexpected delight

This book took me by complete surprise, having not read any previous reviews. What an absolute delight. So different, so interesting, so empowering. A powerful message to get up and go follow your dreams!

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  • Margaret
  • 16-12-21

Wonderful story / Fabulous narrator

I wasn't sure about this book when I bought it but i love the narrator and thought I would give it a try. I am so glad I did.
The story is funny and sad. The two main characters are the complete opposite of each other but I loved both of them equally. Juliet Stevenson narration makes all the characters jump off the page. Do yourself a favor and give this wonderful book a listen!

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  • Charlotte Borg
  • 13-12-21

pink pompons and golden beetles


Well, sadly, I have had to bid Enid and Marg farewell as I have just finished their delightful bitter-sweet tale of adventure, believing determinedly in — and pursuing - one’s dreams, succeeding female in a world where all men hold privilege, surviving, then resolutely and joyfully thriving in a world laid desolate by war, massive loss, unutterable grief and unkindness. The unshakeable sustenance and redemption of the main characters through the discovery of, and then coming to, love, friendship, sisterhood, motherhood filled my heart and hours with sheer delight, laughter, sadness, and above all, entertainment. One of my favourite books, ever.

The stalker’s presence and role in the novel annoyed me thoroughly till I came to understand his role as less of a wounded character wounding others and deserving of compassion nonetheless but more of an archetype representing the masculine in a world weighted against the female often to the extreme of violence and murder.

I loved the comic moments - Marg climbing in and out of hammocks, Marg on a mule, Enid and her “bon sure”; thé moments of courage - the sore hip, the torn feet, the pink pompon. Marg and her discovery of an ocean of golden beetles, her life’s epiphany (one of many) at the moment of that discovery, rendered beautifully by the author. There is only one other such description in literature, in my opinion, and that is the moment when Levin witnesses Kitty giving birth to his son in Anna Karenina - that experience of existence dissolved between earth and another realm - ecstasy, I think.

I hope we find other books like this. I’m ready for them.

And oh - I did not know New Caledonia existed - and one thing even this novel couldn’t change was my dislike of beetles, splendid though they be.

So thank you for bringing this experience my way and I am sorry it’s over.

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  • LN
  • 05-12-21

Very slow getting into a story

I read a lot, but this I wanted to return till almost the end

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  • Hadas Lavy
  • 02-11-21

Nice story, especially the first half

really enjoyed listening to this book. it was a bit dragged out but still a good listen. funny and well told.