Lead Review

  • Book: Lessons in Chemistry
  • Location: California
  • Author: Bonnie Garmus

Review Author: Tina Hartas



This novel is set in an era when women had their domestic lives carved out for them and men generally had the final say. Elizabeth Zott is having none of it. She is a very bright chemist who rails against the norms of the day, which are underpinned by misogyny and discrimination. The woman’s place is in the home and woe betide those who strive for something better or different.

Set against this backdrop, Elizabeth has trained as a hugely competent scientist, is offered a job at Hastings Research Institute and soon gets to know her future partner, Calvin Evans, who is a lonely man, who knows how to hold a grudge and who has been nominated for a Nobel Prize. This is a meeting of minds. Whilst he is carving out his career, Elizabeth is meanwhile asserting herself, both personally and in the name of womanhood. She has to tackle all kinds of prejudice and fend off male predators, who feel entitled to manipulate her simply because she is a woman.

Elizabeth and Calvin partner up and have a daughter, Mad (short for Madeleine), and they also take in a dog, who is called Six Thirty, the time he arrived in their lives. There is an anthropomorphic element to his part in the drama which is very sweet, and Elizabeth is busy teaching him words as the story progresses. I have no doubt the author has/had a dog.

Elizabeth’s life has more than its fair share of dramas and an interesting break for her is being asked to front “Supper At Six” on TV. She brings her far reaching knowledge of chemistry to the cooking show and it is a true hit, she is the star of this curious show. She of course does it her own way with grit and determination and it is a huge success.

This is such a a creative story which mixes whimsy, poignancy, humour and women’s basic lack of rights in that era and reminds the reader that many aspects in the 21st Century have been hard won by determined people. Some things have changed, some sadly have not. The examples of misogyny and prejudice that Elizabeth encounters hit home hard, they keep coming round.

I did on occasion feel like I was making heavy weather of the novel because at some points and situations, in which Elizabeth finds herself, the story slowed down. But that is insignificant. I enjoyed it very much. The author is a really competent and natural storyteller, who has an incredibly inventive mind. It is charming and heart-rending and that, of course, makes for a good combination in a novel. I think this will be a very popular novel in 2022, a sure-fire hit. I very much look forward to seeing where this author goes next.

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