Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

 

Title: Lessons in Chemistry

Author: Bonnie Garmus

Published: 5th April 2022, Doubleday

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy Doubleday/Netgalley UK

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My Thoughts:

 

Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant scientist, but as a woman in the mid 20th century she struggles to be taken seriously. Denied the opportunity for a PhD after stabbing her professor with a pencil, she takes a job as a research assistant at the Hastings Research Institute. Refusing to fetch coffee for her colleagues, or flirt with her boss, Elizabeth finds her career stalled, until an unexpected meeting with the institute’s wonder boy, Calvin Evans.

“When it came to equality, 1952 was a real disappointment.”

Shifting between past and present, Lessons in Chemistry is a lively and thought-provoking story of ambition, love, motherhood, and science, featuring a heroine with an empowering message for women, still relevant today.

“Once a research chemist, Elizabeth Zott was a woman with flawless skin and an unmistakable demeanor of someone who was not average and never would be.”

It’s clear, though never confirmed, that Elizabeth is on the autism spectrum, candid and artless, she’s frustrated by the social conventions that attempt to constrain her both personally and professionally. I found it easy to empathise with her, given the struggle for equality in both spheres lingers, and cheered her refusal to capitulate to expectations.

“Cooking is chemistry….And chemistry is life. Your ability to change everything—including yourself—starts here.”

Though repeatedly thwarted in her career ambitions, largely by men determined to either subjugate or exploit her, Elizabeth will not be denied. Accepting the role as a hostess of an afternoon television cooking show is a rare compromise for the sake of practically, but Elizabeth doesn’t have it in her to adhere to convention, much to the dismay and ire of her immediate boss, and his boss. That her unusual approach strikes a chord with her audience of housewives surprises everyone, except Elizabeth.

“Imagine if all men took women seriously.”

Though Garmus explores a range of serious issues that disproportionately affect women such as workplace harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, and gender discrimination, her wry humour offsets many of the story’s painful moments. It helps too, that few of the men who treat Elizabeth badly remain unpunished.

“Family is far more than biology.”

I loved the found family Elizabeth attracts. Her relationship with Calvin is a charming surprise, a true connection of soulmates. Elizabeth’s daughter, Madeline, is a delight, as is the equally precocious family dog, Six-Thirty. I quickly warmed to Elizabeth’s across-the-way neighbour, Harriet, her obstetrician and fellow rower, Dr Mason, her stressed out show boss, Walter Pine, and even the disillusioned Reverend Wakely.

“Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.”

Lessons in Chemistry is witty, provocative, poignant and uplifting story of a woman who refuses to be anything other than who she is.

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Available from Penguin UK

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carol
    Apr 18, 2022 @ 05:22:22

    It’s on my TBR!

    Like

    Reply

  2. WendyW
    Apr 18, 2022 @ 14:39:45

    Wow, terrific review. I loved this book, it’s just so unique.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Cherry Hughes
    Apr 18, 2022 @ 20:30:34

    Can’t wait to read it x

    Like

    Reply

  4. Marg
    Apr 18, 2022 @ 21:20:50

    I have this out from the library at the moment! Going to have to make sure I read it and not return it unread like I have a tendency to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. Northwoman
    Apr 19, 2022 @ 02:53:17

    Really appeals to me. I have it on my library list!

    Anne – Books of My Heart

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  6. Helen Murdoch
    Apr 19, 2022 @ 02:53:39

    This is the second book I’ve seen where a female scientist ends up on a cooking show. Cooking shows seem to be having their 15 minutes of fame in literature!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  7. Garrulous Gwendoline
    Apr 19, 2022 @ 14:59:11

    Sounds my kind of book. I’ve put a reserve on at the local library. I’m #21 in the queue. Meanwhile I’ve just started Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  8. Verushka, an editor (@SydneyEditor1)
    Apr 19, 2022 @ 21:21:49

    Yours is the second review of this gem, and it’s just made me want to read it more. Elizabeth is fascinating and a main character I would adore!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  9. Liz Dexter
    Apr 23, 2022 @ 03:49:48

    I’ve got this up next on my NetGalley TBR so will return when I’ve read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  10. Trackback: Its Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  11. Dee-Ann
    Apr 26, 2022 @ 10:26:34

    Elizabeth Zott is my hero. Love this story and characters, including and especially Six Thirty.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  12. Liz Dexter
    May 03, 2022 @ 22:12:49

    I really enjoyed this – I’ve got my review up now https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/2022/05/03/book-review-bonnie-garmus-lessons-in-chemistry/ I mean, it was a fairy tale, wasn’t it, but a lovely one!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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