It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist.
Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in mind. And yet together they will be drawn into an adventure that will exceed every expectation. They will risk everything, break all the rules, and, at the top of a red mountain discover their best selves.
Having enjoyed all of Rachel Joyce’s book this was a pre-order for me and I am delighted to say it lived up to expectations. You know the plot, middle aged Margery Benson leaves her job to go in search of a beetle whose discovery holds sentimental value to her. Never having travelled she seeks to recruit an assistant, unsuccessful with her first choice she accepts Enid, a young and flighty assistant whose secretive backstory is revealed as the story progresses.
There is a lot going on in this tale and it makes for an entertaining work of fiction, set post World War 2 when it was remarkable for 2 women to take a trip around the world on a privately funded research expedition. The backdrop provided the context for a female adventure and upon finishing I was left feeling impressed with how empowering this book was, about 2 brave and determined women who broke the mould and refused to be limited by their gender.
This expedition served as a ‘coming of age’ story where both women learnt lots about themselves, about friendship and difference and how to survive, how to take risks and essentially to follow your dreams. Both women were escaping something and both women were chasing something and their journey was busy, but the author managed to create a lively and entertaining story, with a motley crew of characters which allowed the story to touch upon a range of themes.
The skill of the author was evident because although at times the story had the feel of a caper, it remained authentic and believable throughout. The writing was accessible and the plot easy to follow. Told predominantly from Margery Benson’s perspective in the third person, news from England added depth as did the presence of an interloper, determined to be involved in the expedition.
A pleasing read which sits comfortably sits in the contemporary fiction genre, whilst also having a historical context. Definitely for fans of Rachel Joyce, who writes tender stories of human relationships, but I think this book will have wide appeal and will be enjoyed by fans of Joanna Cannon, Sarah Winman and many others.
About the Author
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 near Stroud.