Book Review: Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I am lucky enough to get to read lots of advance review copies of books – and consequently I sometimes miss books that have hit bestsellers lists. ‘Lessons In Chemistry’ was on my radar – not least because it featured on the Sara Cox TV programme ‘Between The Covers’ – but I’d never got round to buying it. I was then given it as a Mothers’ Day present! I thought my husband (or kids) had been super clever, and read back through my blog posts to see what I had or hadn’t reviewed – but seemingly it was a lucky suggestion from a lady in Waterstones Solihull!! Anyway – it was a very thoughtful gift, and it leapfrogged the contents of my TBR pile. Here’s the blurb:

Your ability to change everything – including yourself – starts here.
Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing.
But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute take a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans, the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with – of all things – her mind. True chemistry results.
Like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later, Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show,¬†Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (‘combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride’) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.”

The book starts with Elizabeth and her daughter Madeline at home – but then jumps back in time to when Elizabeth first met her soul mate – Calvin Evans. The descriptions of the Hastings Research Institute and it’s overtly sexist atmosphere was excellent. I also loved the rowing descriptions (whilst my kids don’t row – lots of their friends do – and there was lots of recognisable rowing shenanigans, and I found out why an erg is called an erg (a rowing machine to most of us, but a friend had mentioned the erg in their kitchen and I hadn’t had a clue what she meant)!)

The chapters then fill out the intervening period – and carries on with the story of Elizabeth and Mad.

Whilst the story is primarily about Elizabeth Zott and her fight against the patriarchy (although it’s never actually called that!) the supporting cast of characters such as the neighbour Harriet, whose husband is abusive, and the ‘secretary’ Miss Frask also have their own awakenings. I enjoyed all of this additional group of characters – and not just the women – but also the TV exec Walter Pine, the clergyman Wakeley – and, of course, the dog Six-Thirty.

Whilst in my own working life since the mid 90s – I’ve seen huge change in the attitude to working women, it’s shocking that in my own Mum’s working lifetime things were as described in this book – just totally unimaginable to young people today!

It was a great book – with a storyline I enjoyed, and at the same time well written, with interesting characters and lots to learn. It’s definitely worth all of the accolades it has received. I’ve just seen it’s being turned into a TV series by Apple – and I can see that being a massive hit too (although I’m already nervous as to whether it will do the book justice or not!) I would recommend reading the book first – in fact that is pretty much a motto for life!