Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus ⭑⭑⭑⭑

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By Jhanvi Vipin (she/her)

In the summer, I joined a book club by the persuasion of my mother. She complained to me that for someone who reads as much as I do, I barely read physical books anymore. So, before I get into this book review, I want to thank my mother for compelling me into reading more than just online and hence, introducing me to an extraordinary book that reveals another brilliant mother who says the iconic line:

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

Bonnie Garmus’ debut novel Lessons In Chemistry features the early 1960s, where we are introduced to our titular character – Elizabeth Zott. A nationwide superstar of a cooking show for housewives called ‘Supper at Six’. However, not by her choice.

Behind the glamour of being a television host, Elizabeth Zott is a single mother and scientist. Specifically, a chemist who is an expert in the field of abiogenesis. Yet, due to her woman status, she deals with much of the worst in her era. Zott was subjected to sexual assault in her university, marginalised by her male colleagues, slut-shamed by her female ones, robbed of credit for her work, and finally fired from her lab because she was pregnant while unmarried. 

We are also told a recollection of much of her memories, including how she lost Calvin Evans — her soulmate, rival, father of her daughter Mad, and Nobel-nominated scientist —, how she met her dog Six-Thirty, how she formed her most dear female friendship with her neighbour Harriet, and finally how she was roped into becoming one of the famous personalities on TV in the US. Garmus’ writing weaves the story together, piece-by-piece with wit, humour, and a dash of feminism.

Even though she is forced to deal with misogyny from both men and women, Elizabeth holds her head high and is far beyond her time. A woman that believes that the women of her time could be more than just the common housewife, and are equivalent to men. You can only imagine the shock of others, when Zott begins to advocate this on ‘Supper at Six.’ Her platform and voice gives her the power to make other women see the change that can be made. With a pencil in her top-knotted bun, lab coat, her manner of making every recipe like a science experiment, and her empowering chat, the crowd loves her, or hates her.

But Elizabeth could care less. She is intelligent, opinionated, but indifferent to others’ opinion of her. And isn’t that what we admire about a good heroine? 

Overall, I give the book a 4 out of 5. Lessons In Chemistry is clever, funny, and very real, corresponding with many issues that women still face today. Over the course of the book, we see the many shades of life in Elizabeth Zott. The losses, the regrets, the love for cherished people, as well as newly found hope. While it sometimes sidetracked with the lives of other characters (especially regarding Calvin’s love of rowing) and had a lot of fate-decided coincidences, it was ultimately a book that made me laugh out loud, and I could not put it down, which is a rarity in books. Bonnie Garmus’ writing for a debut novel is truly profound and deserves its praise. If you decide to pick this book up, you are not wasting your time.

 The book is also being adapted to the screen, as an Apple TV drama miniseries by the same name, starring Brie Larson. It will come out 13 October.