Author: Bonnie Garmus
Narrator: Miranda Raison
Audiobook Length: 11 hours 55 minutes
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 as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes 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.
But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott 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 Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.
Lessons in Chemistry is a novel marketed as being hilarious with a dazzling cast. As a nominee for Best Historical Fiction and the winner of the Best Debut Novel for the Goodreads Choice Awards, there are a lot of high expectations set for this story. The actual story read a lot different than I expected as readers are met soon with some expected heavier topics, sexism, inequality, etc., and some unexpected heavier topics, rape, name-calling, such as c***, death, atheism vs. faith, etc. There are tons of potential trigger warnings for this story, so readers should proceed with caution; however, it was a story that was worth the read. I can see why this was such a standout novel, even before it was released in Spring 2022, but there are a lot of other elements that are just like every other novel out there.
Elizabeth Zott is a woman ahead of her time as she read as if she was transplanted in the 1950s/60s from here in 2022/2023. She had a lot of the same ideas about feminism that read as if a modern woman from today is saying them in a historical setting. She not only lives in a male-dominated industry where it can become cut-throat to survive, it is also a patriarchal world. Garmus really worked, I think, too hard at driving home the fact that Elizabeth was brilliant. This even extended to her daughter also being a genius where she knew the periodic table as a preschooler. Then it is even stated that Elizabeth knew someone was gay just because she is a scientist. It’s a small moment, but it stood out a lot as I do not understand this at all. As a scientist, I couldn’t relate and it did not come across well as it just seemed like a moment to remind the readers that she is a scientist rather than highlighting the skills (observation, logic, etc.) that she possesses. She also becomes too perfect at everything where she takes up rowing and is somehow better than those that have more experience (physics also does not quite add up with some situations with it), her experiments go better than they typically would in a real lab, etc. I loved the concept of Elizabeth, and she was enjoyable, but I think the author could have gotten the same point across by toning down her perfection.
Her story follows her time at Hastings Research Institute where she meets another chemist, and Nobel Prize nominee, Calvin Evans. The two begin whirlwind romance that ends in the birth of their daughter Madeline and a brilliant dog named Six-thirty. Elizabeth utilizes her extreme wealth of knowledge to live her life, including her own research, learning to row, and creating food. It, unfortunately, did not make sense as having a phD in chemistry (of any specialization) does not automatically mean she is great at every type of science. The novel also tries to make Elizabeth stand out by putting down other women and making every man horrible, aside from Calvin. I love when the characters are standouts and individuals, but I think it was a bit much in this novel. Based on how many other readers raved about this story, I am in the minority for my negatives; however, I still loved the concept and the author’s writing style. Overall, I can greatly see how this became a loved novel and won awards, but it just had some details that did not hit the make for me.
6 thoughts on “~ Audiobook Review: Lessons in Chemistry ~”
The opening of this story was what scared me off as well. It has been on and off my TBR so many times, it makes my head swim. I think it will stay off. Great review, Etta. I love you honest thoughts.