April Book of the Month – Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Some folded glasses on the top of a book near cushions
Alicia Lacey

The debut novel Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus has taken the literary fiction world by storm- a witty, charismatic and emotional story of protagonist Elizabeth Zott navigating her way through the misogynistic 1960s.  An incredible introduction to the writing of copywriter Bonnie Garmus, this book is set to become a new Apple TV series coming this autumn!

At first glance, the title led me to think that the book might not be for me as chemistry typically doesn’t pull my interest, but don’t let that deter you. This novel cleverly intertwines the main character’s love for science with aspects of real life because ‘Chemistry is change’ according to Zott, and this novel certainly changed me.

Since the rise in popularity of female empowerment and overcoming the barriers of gender set in the 1960s, seen through the fame of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, Lessons in Chemistry plays with a reader’s empathy and makes it difficult to not be rooting for Elizabeth throughout the whole novel. The ensemble of lovable, flawed and larger-than-life characters guide our heroine through painstaking decisions and events, making this novel a wholesome depiction of found family.

Hastings Research Insititute is not a place of equality; with an all-male team of chemists, Zott finds herself having to fight much harder than her colleagues for equipment and recognition. After events unfold, she leaves Hastings to become the host of a new cooking show, Supper at Six, where her life drastically shifts and unravels as she makes the country fall in love with her delicious recipes.

The narrative is told from multiple perspectives and points in time making the reading experience engaging and fast-paced

Through unconventional practices, Elizabeth follows her passion for teaching – by teaching a nation of housewives to challenge their gender expectations. Following this incredible life of Elizabeth; the chemist struggling to be taken seriously in a male-dominated field, a romance blossoms, friendships are found in unlikely places and a stray dog follows her home at Six-Thirty.

The narrative is told from multiple perspectives and different points in time making the reading experience engaging and fast-paced – you won’t be able to put it down. With little knowledge of chemistry, this book is accessible to all readers who like feminist, dry-wit comedies that are bound to make you feel a whole range of emotions. At times the events in the novel seem like they are too much of a coincidence but due to the nature of the story, Garmus’ world makes room for those once-in-a-lifetime moments where hope and perseverance make miracles less rare.

There are themes of sexual assault in the novel that readers must be aware of before reading. Sexual assault was a common workplace crime, especially in the 1960s, as it was not taken seriously by most law enforcement or higher management. Garmus captures this horrific side of being a woman in a male-dominated society and not having the protection of the law in the book, which highlights the heartbreaking reality for many women like Elizabeth Zott. The contrast between the colourful and optimistic moments with the harsh realities of what women began to fight against with Second Wave Feminism, makes this a must-read in my opinion.

As it was recommended to me by a woman in my life, I want to encourage other women to pick up the book and begin their Lessons in Chemistry.

Alicia Lacey

Featured image courtesy of Kari Shea via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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