Review posted February 24, 2022.
Random House Audio, 2020. 12 hours, 4 minutes.
Review written June 5, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
I read Miss Benson’s Beetle because of a recommendation from the “Silent Book Club” Facebook group of it as a Feel-Good Read. The book delivered! This is a delightful and quirky novel about following your dreams.
It’s 1950. Miss Benson has lived through two world wars. She’s been teaching domestic science at a school for girls for twenty years. One day an incident makes her realize that the girls and the staff are laughing at her, in all her frumpiness. She throws it all off and decides to revive her childhood dream. She’s going on an expedition in search of the Golden Beetle of New Caledonia. It has been seen by some, but no specimens have been gathered, so as far as science is concerned, it doesn’t exist.
Since she doesn’t speak French, she advertises for an assistant. That doesn’t go quite as planned, but eventually she and an assistant head off on an ocean liner toward New Caledonia, in search of the golden beetle.
This book never goes for a likely plot. In fact, the things that happen border on ridiculous. But I’ve read that readers can tolerate coincidences that make things difficult for the characters, because that feels like life. What they can’t tolerate are coincidences that solve the characters problems. And yes, Miss Benson’s careful planning gets mostly stymied. The difficulties she faces are outrageous and completely win the reader’s sympathy.
Fortunately, Miss Benson has a companion who won’t let her give up on her vocation.
I should say that I do bear a grudge against the author for something that happened at the end, but this book still qualifies as a Feel-Good Read. It’s in a category all by itself, not a romance, not exploring issues, not helping you know more about a historical period. But it’s a book that’s full of a wild seize-the-day sort of joy, about an ordinary older lady throwing off convention and following her calling.