THE PLOT: ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ by Bonnie Garmus is historical women’s fiction about a female scientist in 1960. Elizabeth Zott is an extraordinary chemist but she’s continuously overlooked because of her sex. When she meets a famous male scientist and he actually takes her research seriously, she’s blown away. But Elizabeth has never wanted to be a wife or mother and she’s afraid that love will pigeonhole her into the role of MRS instead of PHD. After a series of unfortunate events [no spoilers] Elizabeth is kicked out of the lab and forced to find a new job. She gets a lucrative offer but can she convince the world, and herself, that cooking is really just chemistry?

RATING: This book is a major bestseller that has taken the world by storm and I completely understand why. It’s funny and addictive, with a simple message about misogyny and feminism that’s easy for modern readers to root for. The characters are endearing and the plot escalates in a satisfying way – it’s the perfect commercial novel. However, I can only give it four stars because something irked me. It’s almost too polished; too perfect a version of history and the feminist movement. It’s designed for modern women to gobble it up while we all pat ourselves on the back for how we’ve achieved gender equality. Yet Elizabeth feels like a caricature of an autistic woman who is only allowed to be our main character because she’s beautiful, and there’s no real depth to mentions of race or class which is strange for the time period. So, while I love the plot and characters, this book feels like greenwashing – it has a veneer of feminism but it’s not really saying anything, which makes me feel conflicted.

GOOD BITS: This is a highly entertaining novel. Written in 3rd person, the point of view flits between characters seamlessly and you come to love everyone in Elizabeth’s world. From her anthropomorphized dog to her neighbour, the characters are enchanting and you get to see inside all of their heads. I particularly admired the structure of the novel as each chapter is comprised of very short scenes that move between past and present rapidly, almost seeming to interrupt themselves at some points. Although all this head-hopping and time-jumping might seem confusing, it’s pulled off impeccably which is a testament to the author’s skill.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: I can’t put my finger on it but there’s something off about this book. Its brand of feminism is so sanitized there’s something disingenuous about it. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and not every book needs to be gritty and raw. However, it’s such a perfected version of the past that barely touches on the race and class, so it doesn’t feel real. This book feels like a big publisher is selling me easy, “white” feminism – but it doesn’t challenge the status quo or make me think about how these issues are playing out in the modern day. I guess I just feel like it’s a self-congratulatory marketing ploy that’s patting itself on the back rather than teaching the reader anything new.

OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ by Taylor Jenkins Reed, ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett, or ‘Hidden Figures’ by Margot Lee Shetterly. This is a difficult one to review because it’s a feel good, cosy book and I appreciate it doesn’t need to be gritty or realistic. I enjoyed it and would recommend it for a fun, easy read. But I don’t think it’ll last the test of time or be one of those books that stick in my mind forever because I think it’s lacking something… and maybe that something is heart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: