Archive for the ‘Rachel Joyce’ Tag

In search of beetles — bugs, not cars   Leave a comment

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Miss Benson’s Beetle, by Rachel Joyce, is meant to be a charming book, but falls short.  It’s predictable and the characters are caricatures.

Margery Benson’s life is a sorrowful one. Her father commits suicide when she’s a young girl and most of her life is spent living with her depressed mother and dour aunts. Before his death, however, her father showed her a book about bugs, which created an interest in beetles, in particular.

As a middle-aged woman whose life is passing her by, she resolves to find the mythic golden beetle of New Caledonia. Before setting off on this venture, Margery decides an assistant is required. She opts for Enid Pretty, a woman she’s never met, whose correspondence suggests dyslexia, in favor of a Mr. Mundic with post-traumatic stress disorder (although that wasn’t identified following World War II).

Enid is the opposite of Margery in style, personality and intellect.  Enid, whose lively demeanor is off-putting to her employer, does help keep Margery on track. The two set off on their adventure and, unbeknownst to them, are followed by the rejected Mundic. Actually, it’s outright stalking. His inclusion in the plot does little to help move it forward.

In their travels, the women overcome numerous obstacles and forge a bond. Their search for the elusive beetle is secondary.  While their eventual friendship is unsurprising, it is, nonetheless – at times – endearing. Perhaps most enjoyable is the author’s inclusion of an “interview” with the characters at the end of the book.

Miss Benson’s Beetle

The Dial Press, 2020

353 pages (includes Reader’s Guide)

Three Bookmarks

Walking Out of Character   Leave a comment

Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry begins as a slow, methodical, unexpected journey – for the main character and the reader. Rachel Joyce’s novel practically crawls through the first few chapters. Then, like Harold, it picks up the pace only to falter on occasion like most adventures.

This poignant tale shares qualities of a love story and mystery, but is more the former than latter. And, it’s about different types of love: romantic, familial and companionable.

After receiving a letter from Queenie, a work colleague with whom he’s lost touch, Harold sets out to mail a response. Despite the fact that he left the house without his cell phone and is dressed somewhat formally, he decides to embark on a 600+ mile trek from one end of England to the other to talk to Queenie in person. He has no backpack, water bottle, map or other equipment. In fact, he walks in boating shoes.

The elements of a mystery come in the form of questioning the relationship between Harold and Queenie, as well as between Harold and his estranged son, David. There’s also the fact that Harold is married, although he and his wife, Maureen, do little more than share a past and the same house.

The characters’ imperfections are what make the story work, albeit inconsistently. As personalities evolve, foibles become more defined, but so do strengths. Harold loses his way in more than one manner, but he, like the reader, gains perspective even if it is not particularly satisfying.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Three Bookmarks
Random House, 2012
320 pages