Tuesday 10 October 2023

CBR15 Book 55: "Lessons in Chemistry" by Bonnie Garmus

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 5 stars

#CBR15 Passport Challenge: Books recommended by friends

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist struggling to be taken seriously by her male colleagues at a lab in the 1960s. She never completed her degree because her academic advisor raped her, but her lack of degree in no way means she's not intelligent. Despite her brilliant mind, her male co-workers either treat her as nothing more than a lab assistant or steal her research and present it as their own. The one exception to this is Calvin Evans, another brilliant mind, although even more anti-social than Elizabeth. After a couple of rather unfortunate first run-ins, the couple actually begin to talk to each other and their natural chemistry proves very combustive.

However, life doesn't always play fair, and Elizabeth, who never wanted to settle down with any man and certainly never wanted children, finds herself a single mother trying to make a living from the private lab she built in her home. She's doing her best to encourage her precocious daughter, aided only by her faithful dog, Sixthirty, and eventually, a lonely housewife from across the street. Through a series of unlikely events, she becomes a television star, presenting the afternoon cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth refuses to talk down to her audience and uses scientific chemistry terms when explaining her recipes (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”), and her unlikely approach seems to spell television success. While her producer is both baffled at her technique and terrified of her blunt honesty, yet staunchly supportive nonetheless, the station manager is not as happy with Elizabeth's unconventional presenting style or lack of respect for men in general.

Having read several very glowing reviews of this, I decided to put it on my wishlist for last year's Cannonball Book Exchange. Imagine my surprise when I got a lovely hardback edition (it was even signed) from the lovely Witcherwill/Mythili. I do hope she enjoyed the Pratchett books I sent her. As is so often the case, however, even if I own a book, I don't immediately start reading it. I had every plan of getting to it this year and therefore added it to my Cannonball Passport Challenge. Anyone who has followed my blog for some time knows I cannot resist a reading challenge, and will do almost everything in my power to complete as many as possible over the course of a year. It still took me until September to finally read the book, and once I started it, it was one of those books where I pretty much resented everything that took my attention away from it. I loved it so very much, and it's always much harder to write good and articulate reviews of books that I adore. I will happily savage a book I disliked, but with books like this, I just want to flail and scream at everyone I meet to read it (I have in fact insisted that two friends and four colleagues do just that).

I wanted to finish the book before the Apple TV+ adaptation aired, and as always with adaptations, I'm wary. I think Brie Larson will do an excellent job as Elizabeth, because she's a very good actress, but I'm not sure I trust them to fully capture just how good this book is. The trailer makes it look as if they've made quite a few changes, but I will try to keep an open mind. Should it be absolutely panned, I just won't watch it and pretend it never existed in the first place.

This is most likely going to be in my top 3 books of the year. It's an international bestseller and this is well deserved. It's funny and sad and infuriating and moving and I almost wish I hadn't already read it, so I could go back and read it again for the first time. Thank you so much, Mythili, for the gift of this book. 

Judging a book by its cover: I think both covers for this book are somewhat misleading as to the sort of story you're actually getting. The American cover has a peach-coloured cover with just the hints of a woman's face, with cat's eye glasses and bright red lips. It makes the book look light-hearted and frivolous. The primary colours that make up the cover for the UK edition also seem to indicate a much more playful story, especially when you have the lady in the cheerful dress holding a television at the top. I'd heard good things about this book but was surprised at the actual contents after seeing the two covers. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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