I know what you’re thinking, yet another review on Lessons in Chemistry.
If you’re expecting a review from a blogger not falling over herself to praise this book, then I suggest you stop reading now because I’m afraid I have no choice but to join in the hype, I loved this book.
It’s funny, thought provoking, if you’re a woman it will certainly speak to you and perhaps start a revolution.
It most certainly spoke to me…
‘Imagine if all men took women seriously…..’ Bonnie Garmus
From the back….
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 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 isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.
It’s safe to say in 1960s California, Elizabeth Zott is not following the path that society expects. For a start she’s got an opinion and isn’t afraid to let it be heard, she doesn’t want a husband or children; she’s assertive and determined to make sure her daughter forges her own path in life, not follow the conventional rules set out by the patriarchy.
Elizabeth’s a chemist, a talented one at that, the only problem (and it’s a pretty big one) is that pretty much everyone else refuses to view her that way.
Her colleagues look down on her but use her for her brain when it suits, her boss undermines her and sees her as a piece of arse, even women view her with a degree of suspicion, Elizabeth does not behave in a way that’s expected of women in the 50s and 60s, she actively refuses to. Yet despite the challenges and gender disparity she comes up against, she’s unwavering in her conviction, that women can be whoever the hell they want to be.
Most reviews will talk about how this is a story about feminism and yes, it is, I’ll come back to that, but it’s also an examination of grief too. The immediate aftermath of loss and the waves that hit years after, often triggered by the smallest of memories.
Because Elizabeth is dealing with profound grief on top of the rampant misogyny and being a single mum. It’s a quiet grief that lurks in the background, it’s a loss that leaves her untethered and alone.
This book is undeniably funny and witty, but Elizabeth faces some really dark and traumatic experiences that she has to rebuild from. It understandably leads to her always being on her guard and viewing people with wariness. It’s also left her with strength and has turned her into a woman who will protect and stand up for herself.
This may be set in the 50s and 60s, yet Zott is a feminist icon. She rallies America’s women through her cooking show, a job she took to be able to pay her own bills.
She voices the feelings of other women. Their dissatisfaction with the status quo, their anger at being under appreciated, their feelings around a loss of identity. She encourages them to take time for themselves and shows them there is nothing average about preparing a meal – food is chemistry, food keeps us alive, there is nothing easy or average about being a housewife.
She reminds them there is nothing average about being a woman, they aren’t the weaker sex, they are equal to men. It is glorious….
“Whenever you feel afraid, just remember. Courage is the root of change – and change is what we’re chemically designed to do. So, when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others’ opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. And no more allowing anyone to pigeonhole you into useless categories of sex, race, economic status, and religion. Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future. When you go home today, ask yourself what YOU will change. And then get started.” Bonnie Garmus
It’s a wonderful book filled with hilarious characters, it’ll have you seething one minute and howling the next.
While the misogyny and sexism Elizabeth Zott faces may be depressingly familiar (in some ways), this book is a rally call to stand against it, it’ll remind you to ignore societal pressures that tell women to be nice and polite, that girls should be seen and not heard.
So, if you’ve ever been looked down on for having a womb and breasts. Been told you aren’t clever enough, are too assertive, that your value depends on what you look like, your opinion doesn’t matter, you aren’t polite, you’re too much or not enough; tell them to bugger off, then pick up this book and fight back.
Lessons in Chemistry might show us how far we’ve come but it’s also a reminder of how far we still have to go.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm