cover image Miss Benson’s Beetle

Miss Benson’s Beetle

Rachel Joyce. Dial, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-5932-3095-4

Joyce’s sparkling latest (after The Music Shop) pops with grit, resilience, and the power of friendship. It’s 1950, and 46-year-old Margery Benson teaches domestic science to girls in a London school. Having been humiliated one too many times in her 20-year stint teaching, a demeaning sketch of her by a student captioned, “The Virgin Margery!” is the catalyst that changes her life: she leaves the school with a pair of stolen lacrosse boots, returns to her lonely existence in her deceased aunt’s flat, and puts an advertisement in the paper for a French-speaking assistant to travel with her to New Caledonia, where she intends to find a mythical golden beetle. The adventure is sparked by a memory of her father showing her a picture of the beetle in a book called Imaginary Creatures, full of “many incredible extra creatures in the world, and nobody had found a single one of them.” Enter Enid Pretty, Margery’s polar opposite: young, beautiful, petite, and headstrong. During their travels in New Caledonia, each woman faces uncomfortable truths about herself and the other, and both eschew traditional women’s expectations in their own way to celebrate their true selves. Joyce’s 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. Agent: Alexander Cochran, C&W Agency. (Nov.)