“I nearly threw it across the room”: A review of Lessons in Chemistry

By Teale Blewitt

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is an incredible, feminist novel set in the 1950s. It feels so authentic despite being set so long ago. It’s written in third person and subtly shifts perspectives between characters, including the most intelligent dog whose thoughts you’ve ever heard. The main protagonist, Elizabeth Zott, is a scientist struggling to succeed in a male dominated field. She breaks out of the societal pressures of the time and encourages others to do the same. She raises her daughter on those same principles of feminism, and teaches her from the get-go that a woman is worth more than how she looks. 

 

It started with a flash forward to the future, which meant I was hooked from the beginning. I liked how the story covered some fairly heavy content while keeping a light-hearted tone.

I found the writing style very interesting to read. It was very matter of fact and felt almost lacking in emotion, but at the same time could be incredibly evocative. It was written so beautifully and artistically that each line managed to convey the perfect feeling. The chapters were relatively short, which I like in a book. Although saying ‘just one more chapter’ didn’t work too well.

At some points throughout the novel the reader becomes confronted with actual chemistry. As someone who dropped the subject during Year 11, I’ll admit I picked up this book hoping it was just a cool title. I found that not knowing what some of the chemistry references meant didn’t impact my comprehension or enjoyment of the novel; either it was explained in the story or understanding wasn’t necessary. I definitely learned some things from the story as Elizabeth is teaching other women about cooking good food and using chemistry to do so. I found this to be a really interesting delivery method, and I loved the way it talked about food as fuel and the scientific processes that occur in the kitchen.

This novel covers themes of grief in such a lovely way. It wasn’t expected for Elizabeth to get over her losses, and her trauma was taken seriously by her loved ones. Despite being set in the 1950s, the novel covered modern issues and felt current and real. It showed the hoops that women had to jump through to achieve their goals. It showed how women were assumed to be secretaries in any professional setting, normal for the 50s, but in retrospect is so unfair, and the age-old notion that we would be ‘so much prettier’ if we just offered up a smile. It gives us the authentic experiences of women pushing each other down, and women lifting each other up in contrast.

What I loved most about this story was how real it felt. Each time the characters spoke of the unfairness of being a woman, I was so enthralled by how easily the author put into words what women have thought and felt for decades. You could definitely argue that the blunt social commentary was a bit on the nose, but I personally loved how the author took the words we never say out loud and put them straight into the mouths of her characters.

Lessons in Chemistry is an easy read but took me on an absolute rollercoaster of emotions. I laughed, I cried, I nearly threw it across the room. If you read and liked The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I think you’ll like Lessons in Chemistry. I believe there’s a tv series based off it too – I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard good things. I would 100% recommend this beautiful story of love, independence, and women’s strength.


Teale Blewitt is a first year student studying a double degree of Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in drama. Having moved to Brisbane from Far North Queensland, she brought with her a love for books and story telling, as well as a passion for the arts. She loves sharing these things and hopes to inspire creativity and shared interests in others.  

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