Forty-six year old Margery Benson is the epitome of the word ‘spinster’. She is a dowdy, plain, tall and wide school teacher with no family or friends to speak of.
When her world becomes too much, she decides to go on the adventure of a life-time. Knowing that she needs someone to accompany her on this adventure, she advertises for an assistant. Two of the people she interviews for the position play an important part in Margery’s story, especially the colourful, superstitious, talkative, Enid Pretty.
“They made a ridiculous pair, as they chased the porter, like a brown ostrich coupled with a pink-hatted canary”.
It is the year 1950 and Margery and Enid embark on a quest on the other side of the world to find an elusive and fabled golden beetle.The five week ocean voyage sees the two woman learn each other’s habits and their improbable relationship is tested by many things, not the least of which is Margery’s debilitating sea-sickness.
“Margery was stuck in a very small space with the world’s most talkative woman”.
Once they finally reach New Caledonia, more adventure, hazards, and hurdles await them. The ‘bungalow’ they rent is barely held together and infested with everything the New Caledonia rain forest has to offer… The heat is unimaginable.
“… she seemed to be trapped with an insect that sounded like a flying motorbike. The air felt squeezed.”Margery must learn to sleep in a hammock and listen to Enid’s incessant chatter…They must hack their way through the rainforest to reach the top of the mountain where the golden beetle is rumored to be found. They live on canned Spam and bananas. Months go by… and we learn some of Margery’s secrets. Yet twenty-six year old Enid Pretty has the biggest secret of them all…
If there is one thing that Rachel Joyce excels at, it is her wonderful characterization. Once again we enter a world with characters so real, so very human, that your empathy goes into overdrive.
I’ve read several books by Rachel Joyce and this has to be her quirkiest yet. It is a book of extremes. Extremely eccentric characters – on an extremely improbable quest – to an extremely variant and inhospitable environment. Yet it works!
The setting of New Caledonia, an island in the South Pacific, is one which I was completely unfamiliar with. After having read this book I have NO desire to go there either. This was a book about an entomologist I know, but the sheer bounty of insects was enough to have me scratching. The plethora of mosquitoes, the red ants down the neck, and the beetles…. so many beetles.
I am NOT a bug lover (understatement of the year). This book has ascertained that Rachel Joyce is an author whom I will always read, no matter the subject matter, as she has proven that she can capture my attention with her brilliant characters.
Yes, the situations were sometimes improbable but this book was set in 1950 so perhaps the travel security measures were much more lackadaisical than they are today.
This is a novel which will make you laugh aloud most of the time, yet once in a while you may shed a tear or two…
This is a novel about cherishing life, finding joy in the most astounding of places, and most of all it is a story about true friendship.
Highly recommended to those who enjoy eccentric characters learning to like themselves, and their world, just a little bit better. Well-rendered, literary, humourous, uplit.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Dial Press/Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley.
ISBN: 9780812996708 ASIN: B085BTD79N 368 pages
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her books have been translated into thirty-six languages and two are in development for film.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2010 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ 2014.
She lives with her husband and family in Gloucestershire, England.
Rachel Joyce on Facebook.