Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce review – the value of friendship

Two ‘leftover women’ search for an undiscovered species in this touching journey of self-discovery

Rachel Joyce’s wonderful 2012 debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, was about a man who walked 600 miles to see an old friend and found comfort and wisdom on the way. Its follow up, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, told the story of that friend, a woman who was dying having missed out on something in life. Miss Benson’s Beetle is also a pilgrimage of sorts, this time made by Margery Benson, one of a stifled generation of “leftover women” who are marking time in the aftermath of the second world war.

Fortysomething Miss Benson is a disappointed domestic science teacher, showing girls “how to iron men’s shirts, and boil vegetables”, and feeling as though even blue sky is rationed – until a final straw of humiliation inspires her to set off to New Caledonia on a reckless mission to find an undiscovered species of golden beetle. It’s an excellent premise, and one that pans out almost as heartwarmingly as you’d expect, but with some powerful, moving and sometimes violent surprises en route.

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