Book – Lessons in Chemistry ( Bonnie Garmus)
5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
After writing an article about reading losing its charm for me , I was determined to get back to reading.So I did what every sane person would do , turn to Instagram and YouTube. I found bookstagram and booktube and I binge-watched Book tube and Bookstagram videos and the number of times this book has been mentioned is insane, almost 30,000 times then Goodreads sent me the list of best books in 2022, and guess who ranked first in the list- Lessons in chemistry !! Now we may ignore the recommendations but we definitely can’t ignore the universe – (I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise and it would have been my loss. )
This book stands out and has been delivered as promised. It’s a historical fiction but for me, the Chemistry classes stand out. It’s quite a literary novel, full of storytelling tricks and quirks and enough fictional characters to make Neil Gaiman or Stephen King jealous. But Bonnie Garmus is up to the task in this book. She has a laser focus on the injustices of life—not just institutional sexism, but how life robs us of those we love most. It’s a sad but hopeful story that made me laugh and cry, and sometimes those are the best things. There are certain scenes where I felt low and high, certain scenes where I could relate so much that it was heartbreaking.
Elizabeth Zott is a chemist. She’d be a PhD, except—well, you know, she’s a 1960s woman in science. So she ends up as a researcher at a small California institute, where she suddenly falls in love with Calvin Evans, the institute’s most brilliant and eccentric researcher. But when Calvin dies, Elizabeth is left alone, and sexism continues to hinder her ability to make money or advance in the world. Adding on that, she is a single unwed mother in that era. I can’t even imagine honestly !!!
Finally, An opportunity arrives in the form of an afternoon cooking show – hosted by Elizabeth – but neither the TV producer who found it nor Elizabeth herself knows what to make of the success of Supper at Six. Meanwhile, Elizabeth tries to raise her precocious daughter Mad the only way she knows how: scientifically. The scenes of mother-daughter are die for, because you see parenting doesn’t have a textbook guideline and that’s okay. You do you !!
This book has flaws too but the way it ties up is beautiful. Garmus’ story is sometimes flat, though broad in the description, prone to tangents and tending towards its point. Dialogue splatters onto the page in bits and pieces and it makes sense. Each chapter moves between times and memories, sometimes focusing so madly that it’s relatable. The characters are caricatures – some so sexist and crude as to border on unbelievable, others so crude or farcical as to almost undermining the seriousness of the story. But I think that’s more the point, and that’s what Garmus is trying to do here – sexism is stupid.
This is the story of a woman who refuses to settle down. In chemistry class, many people – including other women – tell Elizabeth that she just needs to embrace the world. You might be able to make some progress, but eventually, you have to give up and play by the patriarchy’s rules. You must be Miss Frask instead of Elizabeth Zotti.
Garmus perfectly captures so many tropes I see in social justice circles—women burdened with such internalized misogyny that it hurts to watch; men who claim to be allies, but only if it means you sit down now, be disruptive; people of all genders who support you and mean well, but don’t understand how far the freedom struggle has to go. From Fraski to Walter to Helen, the characters jump off the page because they are caricatures. Lessons in Chemistry feel more like Garmus shouting into the void. Because the world hasn’t changed much since the 1960s.
Also, if this book has a flaw, it’s its whiteness—women of colour still face more obstacles than women like me and Elizabeth. So Garmus wrote a book to scream and scream and scream about the injustice of it all.
There is also a love story here. It’s written in the language of decanters and rowing and strapping laws, but here, on paper, it’s a slow-burning romance that ends too soon and becomes an afterthought. Elizabeth and Calvin never stood a chance. Calvin and his mother never had a chance. Calvin and Mad never stood a chance.
Sometimes life just happens and you never have a chance.
I loved all of Elizabeth’s relationships in the book. She is so careful with her daughter, yet so ignorant. Mad is an adorable kid, a little creepy but never overwhelming – I don’t think I wanted to see her try to carry the whole book, but as a main character who joins us halfway through, she’s great. Also Helen – her evolution from a somewhat ambitious housewife to Elizabeth’s close friend… it’s so cool and could have been boring in another writer’s hands, but Garmus somehow pulls it off.
This is it: a magic trick. This book is so raw, yet so carefully and precisely crafted, a chemical—a no, alchemical—chain reaction of storytelling culminating in coding that made me cry. When Elizabeth signs when she reads the clue cards at the end… well, not to spoil it, but it brought tears to my eyes – even though much of the finale is predictable, it’s predictable in a way that Garmus deserved to be predicted. The victory is so well accomplished, so satisfying, that I feel I have already had my fill.
So please do give it a read !!!!
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