Samantha Leigh Miller

writer, reader, teacher

Miss Benson’s Beetle, by Rachel Joyce

What to read when…

…you need to feel there are still adventures to be had in this world.  I promise you that Miss Benson’s Beetle will make you want to quit your job, sell all your belongings, and hop a freight for the other side of the world.  The only issue there is that I sort of like my job. I’m also kind of attached to my belongings, and even if I did sell them, they might take me as far as Florida.  Might.  So this is why we read, right?  To protect our livelihoods, guard our meager possessions, and to have adventures with swarthy, but tender pirates on some soft beach of a South Pacific island without actually cheating on our husbands.  Oh my.  Where did the pirates come from?  And why so many?  There weren’t any pirates in Joyce’s book…

I will warn you that for as much fun as this book is, I wouldn’t consider it a ‘light” read.  Margery’s existential crisis may be written with charm, but her angst is real.  Her suffering, visceral enough to make the reader occasionally uncomfortable.  And her traveling companion, Enid, has a “vocation” which happens to be something I’ve written about recently and not a topic most women would take lightly.  Joyce sweeps Enid into such a transformational journey, I am still left wondering if it is actually Enid, and not Margery who is the protagonist of this story. 

The book is also not without its faults.  Well, just the two that I counted anyway: an extraneous storyline that fortunately didn’t distract from the enjoyment of the narrative, and an EGREGIOUS error at the end that even the author seemed to apologize for in some postscripts.  I have not forgiven Joyce for this betrayal, and yes, I was swearing during those last few pages.  But an author who can elicit the “F” word from me, has earned her title.

Read Miss Benson’s Beetle to travel the world with only a satchel and a new best friend.  Read it to rekindle your own vocation, if there’s one you have that needs some brushing off.  But also, put the books down and just go.  Do.  Explore the world, with or without the pirates, because as Margery tells us toward the end of the book, her adventure “was not about making her mark on the world: it was about letting the world make its mark on her.” 

And by the time I’m done, I want to be all marked up.

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