Cover Image: Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry

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Member Reviews

I’ve been hearing a lot about this book on social media and honestly wondered if it would live up to the hype - short answer is yes!

Our heroine is funny and smart, the cast of characters around her just as entertaining and while there are times when you simply want to slap several of the men upside the head it simply adds to that brilliant 60s feel!
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Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant scientist, but as a woman in the mid 20th century she struggles to be taken seriously. Denied the opportunity for a PhD after stabbing her professor with a pencil, she takes a job as a research assistant at the Hastings Research Institute. Refusing to fetch coffee for her colleagues, or flirt with her boss, Elizabeth finds her career stalled, until an unexpected meeting with the institute’s wonder boy, Calvin Evans.

“When it came to equality, 1952 was a real disappointment.”

Shifting between past and present, Lessons in Chemistry is a lively and thought-provoking story of ambition, love, motherhood, and science, featuring a heroine with an empowering message for women, still relevant today. 

“Once a research chemist, Elizabeth Zott was a woman with flawless skin and an unmistakable demeanor of someone who was not average and never would be.”

It’s clear, though never confirmed, that Elizabeth is on the autism spectrum, candid and artless, she’s frustrated by the social conventions that attempt to constrain her both personally and professionally. I found it easy to empathise with her, given the struggle for equality in both spheres lingers, and cheered her refusal to capitulate to expectations.

““Cooking is chemistry….And chemistry is life. Your ability to change everything—including yourself—starts here.”

Though repeatedly thwarted in her career ambitions, largely by men determined to either subjugate or exploit her, Elizabeth will not be denied. Accepting the role as a hostess of an afternoon television cooking show is a rare compromise for the sake of practically, but Elizabeth doesn’t have it in her to adhere to convention, much to the dismay and ire of her immediate boss, and his boss. That her unusual approach strikes a chord with her audience of housewives surprises everyone, except Elizabeth.

“Imagine if all men took women seriously.”

Though Garmus explores a range of serious issues that disproportionately affect women such as workplace harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, and gender discrimination, her wry humour offsets many of the story’s painful moments. It helps too, that few of the men who treat Elizabeth badly remain unpunished.

“Family is far more than biology.”

I loved the found family Elizabeth attracts. Her relationship with Calvin is a charming surprise, a true connection of soulmates. Elizabeth’s daughter, Madeline, is a delight, as is the equally precocious family dog, Six-Thirty. I quickly warmed to Elizabeth’s across-the-way neighbour, Harriet, her obstetrician and fellow rower, Dr Mason, her stressed out show boss, Walter Pine, and even the disillusioned Reverend Wakely.

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

Lessons in Chemistry is witty, provocative, poignant and uplifting story of a woman who refuses to be anything other than who she is.
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I was expecting something more from "Lessons in Chemistry", yet it's another feel-good story set in the US in the 50s and 60s. From the very first pages this novel felt like it was written with a sole purpose of turning it into another streaming service's series. I couldn't help but associate it with Netflix's "Hollywood" - a fantasy of what could've and would've if we were able to transfer just a bit of contemporary wokeness into not very woke reality.

The main character, Elizabeth Zott, is way ahead of her times in terms of her world view, ambition, her entire demeanour that it's almost unbelievable. I was even wondering if this character was purposefully written by Bonnie Garmus to display certain characteristics of people on the autism spectrum.

If it was, what a pity that the author didn't start the chapter by saying: "In the 50's ASD wasn't recognised yet". What I'm referring to, is the Garmus' tendency to dumbing down certain issues, such as abortion laws and what women wore in case the readers didn't know that past times were different than present. I felt more credit should be given to the readers and their capabilities to understand how much the times have changed.

"Lessons in Chemistry" wasn't a fantasy depiction of the 50s and 50s that makes for a pleasant escapism, neither was it perspective-broadening, However, I must admit that it was well-written with a great narrative skill.
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lessons in chemistry was a real mixed bag for me, honestly. bits were done exceptionally well, but there were multiple odd choices and a lack of realism to the narrative that made it a little hard to take this book seriously. i do question the really rather high rating on goodreads, but perhaps i'm just in the minority here.

on the one hand, garmus manages at times to explore the complexities of familial relationships, loss, and female empowerment really well. it's not all done well all the time, but there are some powerful, golden nuggets throughout that are really what give the story its unique charm. i really liked the science mentioned throughout - not that i understood all of it but it was interesting to see that it seemed to have been really researched and woven into the protagonist, elizabeth zott's, character, rather than totally glossed over. for the most part, i also really liked elizabeth, and there were some other characters whose journeys and lives it was interesting to get some insight into, such as harriet, calvin and walter. there are also a handful of genuinely funny (and actual laugh-out-loud) moments scattered which were pretty enjoyable. a lot of the humour, however, either didn't land or only evoked a sharp exhale through the nose.

on the other hand, a few things made it difficult to fully like the story. for example, there's a clear feminist narrative that ends up feeling extremely heavy-handed and on the nose. the story is set in the 60s but elizabeth has opinions that feel like they came straight out of the present day. and no, i'm not saying that women of the 60s couldn't be forward-thinking or disagree with the societal values of the day, but elizabeth's narrative was so in-your-face that after a certain point it just didn't feel realistic at all. and because of this, it also feels like you, the reader, are being talked down to. there was no nuance; all the sexism was so rampant and blatant that it's as if garmus thought readers would be too stupid to recognise it otherwise. which is ironic, considering that one of elizabeth's main goals is to always treat the women in her life as though they are fully capable of understanding complexities.

another odd thing was the recurring perspective of the dog. i don't really know why it was felt an insight into the dog's thoughts and feelings was necessary. it felt weird and pulled me out of the story.

i think the only other thing to mention was that this book takes a very strong anti-religion stance. main characters are atheist because of their scientific approaches, and basically all of the religious figures seem to be portrayed negatively in some ways (e.g. religious figures being closeted atheists, or others being abusive, greedy, liars etc.). i am not religious myself but there are some people who might be uncomfortable with this, so i thought it was worth mentioning.

because this story is really more about the overarching feminist narrative than any kind of plotline, and because i didn't feel that it came together quite right, i've gone for 3* rounded up from 2.5.

massive thanks to random house uk, transworld publishers and netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Elizabeth Zott is a chemist, but in a man's world in the 50s, she is constantly battling to be taken seriously. The book begins as Elizabeth takes a job as a daytime TV cook, but we go back in time to find out just how she got there (a journey through love, heartache, loss, and hard work) and what she does once she's there.

I loved her daughter's character, although a little far-fetched to say the least, she was a delight. I also loved her dog, Six-Thirty. Whilst I'm not usually a fan of animals being given a human-like quality, this did grow on me through the book and I grew to love him. Elizabeth herself isn't exactly a likeable character, but her thoughts and ideas are so sound, and ahead of her time that you can't help rooting for her.

Overall I don't think this book was "laugh out loud funny" as I've heard it described, but it is amusing, captivating, and interesting. I'm keen to see what this author does next, and I'm also looking forward to the TV adaptation. Thank you Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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‘For Elizabeth, cooking wasn’t some preordained feminine duty. As she’d told Calvin, cooking was chemistry. That’s because cooking actually is chemistry.’

My thanks to Random House U.K. Transworld Doubleday U.K. for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ by Bonnie Garmus in exchange for an honest review. 

There was a great deal of prepublication buzz about this debut comedy-drama, set in California during the 1950-60s. While I was initially drawn by its eye catching cover, it certainly fulfilled its promise and proved an amazing read. Indeed, one of my best of 2022. 

So a quick overview: In 1952 research chemist Elizabeth Zott is working at the Hastings Research Institute. As might be guessed from its period setting, the all-male team dismisses her abilities and seeks to undermine her. Elizabeth carries on regardless. Yet she has one ally in Calvin Evans, a lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated scientist, who falls in love with her mind. 

While there is true chemistry between them, life is unpredictable and a few years later, Elizabeth Zott finds herself unemployed and a single mother. A few more years pass and one of Madeleine Zott’s schoolmates has a father involved in television. He is in desperate need of a replacement show for an afternoon slot. Knowing that Elizabeth is a great cook, he talks her into hosting a new cooking show, Supper at Six. 

By late 1961 Elizabeth's unusual approach to cooking is proving revolutionary. Yet as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because Elizabeth Zott is not only teaching women to cook; she is daring them to challenge the status quo of the day. 

One of the many wonderful things about this novel is the stray dog that Elizabeth and Calvin adopt and name Sixthirty.  He actually brings his own quirky canine observations to the narrative. 

‘Lessons in Chemistry’ ticks all my boxes: it is a literary novel yet is extremely readable. It has a strong plot that includes social issues of its time that remain relevant today, brilliant characters that leap off the page, and a well realised period setting. Within its pages is found humour and drama; moments that are heartbreaking as well as heartwarming. And there is Elizabeth Zott, definitely a character to remember.

I felt that ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ was just perfection.  That it will be a best seller and critically acclaimed is a given. I also expect that it is going to be a big hit with reading groups. 

On publication I bought its hardback edition as it is definitely one I want on my library shelf. 

Very highly recommended.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book. I have chosen to write this honest review voluntarily.
Elizabeth Zott, the star of this book, is a clever chemist in the days when women were not recognised, appreciated or treated equally; these facts are presented within this interesting and engaging book. The tale of her fight against the system and efforts to gain love and respect is written in this novel with wry humour, comic one-liners and incredibly sad moments couched within realistic relationships. The book is unlike anything I've ever read before and I cannot recommend it too highly, I didn't want to put it down. I'm immediately signing up to follow this author.
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Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book ahead of release. From the cover to the title to the blurb, the promise that this was 'the debut of 2022', to the realisation this book had already been greenlit for a TV Series 

Hand on my heart, I had no idea what to rate this book. It’s superbly written, there isn't a doubt in my mind that this author is superbly talented. I was invested and kept coming back for more, even when I wasn’t sure what I was coming back for. The book…is nonsensical. I was discussing it with my partner and they really hit the nail on the head by saying ‘sounds like it’s trying to be a fantasy and a biography at the same time’ - the talking dog that gives entire monologues, basically info-dumping at you to keep the story moving. The child who’s wandering about reading war and peace at 4. The audience enjoying full chemical explanations of food and then using them in day to day life as if that’s standard practice.

t just went beyond the borders. It hit the quirky but believable, I suppose, box, and took a bunson burner to it.

That being said, I loved that it was centred around such a strong female character. Elizabeth is headstrong, intelligent, capable and entirely held back by the world around her. She herself was a grounding rock in the centre of the story.

I think it’s also very important to mention that this book contains graphic sexual assault (a small paragraph with a lot of weight, x2); in fact, it felt like the majority of the men in this book were blatantly sexist to the point of it feeling almost pantomime. There was no representation of minorities and the struggles they were going through; just very heavy handed sexism towards the white women in the book. All of which was probably true, but when combined with the monologuing dog brought an additional air of ‘insert confused, furrowed eyebrows here’

The story arc with Frisk felt also unbelievable. And plays into the above point. I’m not going to say more and spoil it

I enjoyed the book. I feel right to give it a 3 as I write these thoughts down though. I was interested, the well-worn scenes and plot kept me engaged. I loved six-thirty, he was by far my favourite character. I just think he’d have been better suited to a steampunk fantasy lab.
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The most wonderful book highlighting all the struggles of female academia in the 50/60s. Elizabeth Zott is a pioneer in forging a way ahead for female scientists. Calvin was a beloved character who endeared the audience to care about Elizabeth and six thirty. Delightful read.
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I would rate this book at 3.5 ⭐️

I did really enjoy the story and the feminism throughout, the pacing was excellent and at no point fell flat but it just wasn't that intising and did take me 2 weeks to finish. The backstory of Elizabeth and Calvin was my favourite part and Calvin was probably my favourite character. Lessons in chemistry had a very satisfying happy ending and was done perfectly. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves feminist fiction it was good just not great for me personally.
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I just read this in one sitting, glued to every word. I'm crying. I am so attached to Elizabeth Zott. 

The book follows a woman in the 60s who is a hard working chemist battling against a whole lot of sexism and discrimination. It follows her life before and after having a child, Mad. Her life has never been easy, from her tragic childhood to her relationship with Mad's father.   I just felt so sad at Elizabeth's loneliness in the world and heart warmed by the people that stood by her as her friends. 

This is a really emotional story, includes a lot of tragedy and a lot of hope. The ending really had me tearing up in a way that makes you warm. I don't have the words to describe it. The depth of the characters in this and how they all fit together is incredible. Also I love the dog, the star of the show who even gets his own point of view, Six Thirty.
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Thank you for the opportunity to review this new novel.

For once I didn't put down a book I couldn't get into right away. I thought about all the rave reviews I've read and hoped it would be better. It certainly improved and at the end I loved it. 

It's laugh-out-loud funny, surprisingly dark but also filled with love. How can you not love a character like Elizabeth? She doesn't cave for anybody or anything, she do what she believes in and that's admirable, especially during the 1950's. 

Harriet, one of the characters, is a gem and reading about the interaction between her and Elizabeth are five-star reading :)
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A lady on a mission. A scientist by education and calling but not accepted , at the time, in what was seen as a male orientated profession. Through circumstances she finds herself projected into the world of tv as a cookery programme host where she can introduce others to her love of chemistry with undiluted success 
A plethora o zany characters pepper this totally readable book
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC.

Elizabeth Zott is a tour-de-force of a character - any author would be jealous they hadn't written her. Garmus writes wonderfully about a time when feminist icons were badly needed, especially in the sciences, and doesn't shy away from the injustices suffered by women of the time. Every character in the book jumps off the page, and the narrative drags you in. I'll recommend this book to all my friends this summer.
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This review features in the 28/4 issue of YOU magazine

By Bonnie Garmus
Have you ever heard of the feminist icon Elizabeth Zott? Probably not because she exists only between the covers of American author Bonnie Garmus' debut novel Lessons in Chemistry.
But by the time you get to the end of the novel you'll find yourself wishing that Elizabeth was real – there’s so much to like about the chemistry boff-turned reluctant TV cooking personality and her super-bright daughter and funny dog Six-Thirty.
How can you not love a woman who ends off each show with the catchphrase, "Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself."
Elizabeth's driving passion is chemistry – she knows it’s what she was born to do but it's the early 1960s and her male colleagues at Hastings Research Institute make her life hell and treat her like dirt. Eventually, forced out of the job she loves, the only way the single mother can support herself and her child is to step into the limelight as the host of a cookery TV show.
But as she presents Supper at Six, Elizabeth finds ways to sneakily bring in chemistry and her approach to cookery ("combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride") wins her a legion of fans. Because as well as teaching women to cook, she's also daring them to challenge the status quo.
As she swims against the current, there are so many willing her to fail but unbeknown to her there is a mystery benefactor who believes in her work.
It’s a wonderful, funny, quirky and at times maddeningly frustrating tale from Garmus, an American copywriter, who waited until the age of 64 to release her first novel. But good things are clearly worth waiting for – before it had even hit the shelves, Apple TV + had already snapped up the rights and the series starring Brie Larson is set for release later in the year.
But don’t wait for that because as any reader knows, the book is always better!
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A great debut novel.

Set in 1950s/60s America, Elizabeth Zott is a talented chemist at a time when societal norms dictate that a woman's role is to be at home in the kitchen. Even worse, she has an opinion. She stands against the misogyny and discrimination, but instead of receiving recognition for her scientific discoveries, she is assaulted, ostracised, plagiarised and fired.

Amidst all this, Elizabeth meets Nobel prize nominated chemist, Calvin Evans and they fall deeply in love. This just causes even more problems with people thinking she is passing off his work as her own. 

Elizabeth becomes an unlikely and unwilling host of an afternoon cookery program. She stays true to her principles and uses the opportunity to teach women not just the science behind how to make delicious meals, but to stop accepting the status quo and demand more.
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"Positive, happy and upbeat" - that's not Elizabeth Zoff. Instead, the single mother scientist's passion for her research and dogged determination to be true to herself in the man's world of the 50s and 60s is what defines her, and makes her one of the most interesting characters in fiction that I've come across. 
Struck by tragedy more than once in her 30 years, abused and ridiculed by her male peers and struggling to make a living for herself and her daughter, Elizabeth accepts a job as a TV cook, presenting "Supper At Six". True to her principles, she uses this opportunity to delivery chemistry lessons to the nation's housewives, who are hooked by this serious and uncompromising woman who is all too often the first person to take them seriously and make them believe in themselves and their talents.
The central theme of feminism in this story is served up with so many strong threads as the writer explores the family tragedies of the two main characters, Elizabeth and her fellow scientist and soulmate Calvin; male abuse of women in the workplace and at home; and the importance of discovering your true self. 
But with friendship and laughter and a beautiful love story right at its heart, it's not at all depressing.
The writing is witty and wry, and the characters are joyous - especially Madeline, Elizabeth's very precocious small daughter, and their dog Six-Thirty, who plays a central role in the story.
I thought the title of this book was so clever - amidst the real chemistry lessons Elizabeth delivers up to her eager audience, the narrative explores the chemistry of interaction between people, the past and their future, without ever labouring the point.
A brilliant read which I'd recommend to anyone.
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This is an amazing debut novel. This is a story that I wanted to take my time to read and appreciate.

Elizabeth is a wonderful character, fighting against sexism, inequality and the societal norms of 1950s and 60s America.

In fact all the characters are so well written they jump off the page. 

A book well worth all the hype it’s receiving. 

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my review.   I have since been out and bought a copy of this too.
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Wow wow wow
What a perfect and brilliant debut, right from the start the characters came to life, the plot paced perfectly. This book was faultless. I will use extracts from the book in the classroom to demonstrate how to create pure beauty on the page
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After several colleagues enthused about this one, I decided that I should join the party and it was definitely a case of better late than never.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and confess to being totally obsessed with all things Zott!  Elizabeth Zott is, first and foremost a chemist and scientist.  She is also a mother, friend, lover and tv cooking programme host.  Forthright, outspoken and, at times, shunned and ridiculed, Zott uses her tv show to encourage and champion the rights of the stay at home woman to ask for more - and to deserve more.  There is an amazing cast of supporting characters, including Six-Thirty who is quickly becoming everyone’s favourite literary dog.

Full of vim and vigour, wit and warmth, this debut packs a subversive punch and introduces questions of a woman’s right to a career, to education, respect and equal pay.  Elizabeth Zott, I unashamedly declare myself a fan!
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