What I read
In this time and place–a New Year, the raging pandemic, my own struggles– Rachel Joyce’s Miss Benson’s Beetle was the perfect read, what with its story of an unlikely sisterhood, adventure and derring-do, following a dream deferred. Margery Benson is a a spinster lady in post-war England. She teaches (in a quite lackluster manner, it should be noted) domestic science in a girls’ school. Margery is “lumpy old woman”–tall and overweight with bird’s nest hair and a potato nose. (Do I even need mention nearly all of her frocks are brown?)
And when a random act of larceny propels her to leave her world behind and head halfway around the world for New Caledonia to search for the elusive golden beetle, Margery hires Enid Pretty–her opposite in nearly every way–as her assistant. Enid arrives for their four-month ocean journey in a bright pink suit, candy floss yellow hair, and sandals. With pom-poms at the toe, no less. Where Margery is a woman of few words, Enid’s flow endlessly. Where Margery worries and frets, Enid trips through life with endless optimism. She is the Tigger to Margery’s Eeyore. And while Margery tries to keep her at arm’s length, that is impossible.
So begins their hero’s journey. Both women, it turns out, are following their vocation: Marge’s, entomology; Enid’s, motherhood. Life hasn’t been easy or kind to either and the humiliations they endured in the past propel them to test themselves. There is one passport between the two of them. Lost luggage and supplies. A stolen Jeep. Heat and humidity and tangled jungle to battle. Meddling diplomatic wives whose snooping almost reveals their secrets. A cyclone and dangerous river crossing.
Miss Benson’s Beetle is proof that a coming-of-age story isn’t limited to young people. That it’s never too late to follow your dreams and find love–although both might be found in the most unlikeliest of places.
What I lived
It’s a quiet life I live now–much quieter than I imagined retirement would be. But it’s a good time for learning to live in balance, a good time to turn inward. When I read a book like Miss Benson (or the Book of V. which is next up for review) I realize in a very real way that it’s my relationships with women that have transformed me more than any other. They certainly offer more support than the romantic relationships I’ve had. [In fact, I’ve decided my pall bearers (long, loooooong time down the road!) will be women. Because they have carried me through life, they’re the ones who will carry me out. Quite literally.]
Other than such Deep Thoughts, I’ve taken on my grandson’s virtual school when Mom works and his sisters are at day care. I’m working through an online weaving course on my lap loom. And I’ve stitched more Mr. Socks than I ever dreamed I would.
Granted, life is quiet. But I am safe and warm. I have long chats with friends. I walk. I journal. I read, always. It’s true in my case, as it was in Margery Benson’s that, “Never in her life had she felt so near that porous line where her own body finished, and the earth began. And blessed. She felt blessed.”