Why is Joyce a favorite author? Her characters and the journeys they undertake. Her characters are the ones that aren't noticed, the walking wounded, those that are 'different'. But they also have something within, some drive, determination and more to find - what they need, what they want, what they can give. And the journeys? While they often involve physical travails, for the most part it is a journey of the spirit. And for this reader, Joyce's writing makes me cry, makes me hopeful, makes me think and makes me want to be a better person.
Miss Benson had a dream when she was young, but life didn't turn out the way she expected. Forty years on, she is determined to finally follow that dream. A pair of stolen boots seals the deal. The dream? To find a golden beetle that no one has ever captured. She is going to cross the world to reach the jungles of New Caledonia. She'll need an assistant of course - and so Enid Pretty is hired. She's not quite what Margery is looking for, but needs must.
And so the journey begins. A physical journey to be sure, but also an emotional one...."She was traveling of 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 excels at characterization. Margery and Enid are so wonderfully drawn. I could easily capture their physical appearance in my imagination. But it's what's inside that makes this such an amazing read. Enid is a bit of a mystery with clues dropped along the way. Still, the reader will be able to piece together her story from inferences and actions. I liked her more and more with every chapter. Miss Benson's sense of self, her memories, her losses are juxtaposed with her want to be more, do more, experience more. "She got the feeling she was always looking at life through a glass wall, but one that had bobbles in it and cracks, so that she could never fully see what was on the other side and even when she did, it was too late." There's a third player, one I will leave you to discover. Their story is heartbreaking, and very real.
Joyce has such a way with words. Many sentences had me stopping to enjoy them more than once. "Besides, she had been raised in a house of women whose skill at not saying a difficult thing verged on professional."
I laughed and yes, cried. (Oh, Rachel Joyce - that ending....) I gripped my book too tightly at times, and kept reading long after my eyes said stop. But I laughed out loud many, many times as well.
And the beetle? Is it found? Ahh, you'll have to pick up the book for the answer to that - and many other things. Absolutely a brilliant read - one of the best of 2020 for this reader. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of Miss Benson's Beetle.