A delight for readers of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, this blockbuster debut set in 1960s California features the singular voice of Elizabeth Zott, a scientist whose career takes a detour when she becomes the star of a beloved TV cooking show.
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.
Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.
WARNING: LONG REVIEW AHEAD because I am THAT enthusiast about the book #sorrynotsorry
I never thought it was a first work! I only realized it once I looked for other stories by that author!
About the plot:
Lessons in Chemistry follows Elizabeth Zott, a young chemist determined to forge her path in a very masculine field. This was even more difficult as in the 1960ies, the place of a woman was considered being at home making babies. And if you wanted to work, you’d be at most a secretary or a lab assistant. Never a chemist.
Realizing how hard it was for women who wanted to work and be taken seriously was a rude awakening! The only person who took Elizabeth and her brilliant mind seriously was the genius Calvin Evans.
With Calvin, Elizabeth could strive.
But as the synopsis is saying, life is unpredictable and Elizabeth will have no choice but become a TV star with her cooking show “Supper at Six”.
Yet a tiger does not change his stripes and Elizabeth is not “just” teaching women to cook. She is also teaching women that what they did mattered and was hard. She taught them that they were smart. That they could understand chemistry.
The way the shows are described with Elizabeth Zott’s commanding the show, using chemist lingo to describe water, salt etc was so flawless and impressive that I truly thought the author was a chemist! Bonnie Garmus did a splendid job researching chemistry helped with a chemistry textbook from the 1960ies to be sure never to use concepts or ideas that didn’t exist at that period in time!
Bonnie Garmus gave us an unyielding and very determined heroine.
Elizabeth Zott has to be all that to be her own person, to create her path in life and follow her dreams. She turned to science in opposition to her father who was a con artist, a make believe man. She needed something concrete, tangible. And she was passionate about science, giving it everything. That made it even more unfair to see that brilliant woman being forced in the shadow of mediocre scientists just because they happened to be born male!
This story highlight the way society improved for women but, as the author explains in her interview, we still have inequalities. Rape still goes unsanctioned as people don’t believe the woman, women earn lesser wages for equal work and women are still afraid to walk alone at night. We must keep fighting these inequalities.
Elizabeth knowing what marriage did to a woman’s rights didn’t want to fall in love with Kelvin Harris. She only allowed it because it was chemistry! And even loving him profoundly, that never eased her fears of losing her rights to a husband.
But Elizabeth Zott is not the only captivating character that Bonnie Garmus gave us. The author fleshed out an array of quaint and unique side characters, beginning with Elizabeth Zott’s dog Six Thirty!
Six Thirty is highly intelligent and was a prime example of what empowerment does on a creature. If you trust someone, if you believe in him or her, he/she will grow! Elizabeth never doubts Six Thirty’s intelligence and teaches him words.
That dog played an important role in the story, from companion to guardian, savior or nanny!
When I listened to the author’s interview, I realized he had been inspired by the author’s former dog who, at one point, understood commands uttered in German.
Elizabeth Zott’s daughter, Mad was like a young Yoda. Wise beyond her age she had a deep perception of the world and a keen sense of observation. A knack for the human heart and soul.
Elizabeth Zott never doubted her daughter’s ability and raised her very unconventionally. Teaching her to read from a very young age, that will put Mad at odds with her teacher once she’ll join kinder garden because of her choice of reads and her vast scientific knowledge.
Elizabeth like many did the opposite of what her mother did and put Mad in school, in the hope that she would socialize. But Madeline was so unhappy.
Another favorite character was Walter, Elizabeth Zott’s producer. Walter was a good guy. He tried to protect women, Elisabeth, his daughter, even if he was really bad at it. The author with Walter, Kalvin etc wanted to show that if there were sexist men, men abusing their powers, all men were not like that.
The writing made me think of Where the Crawdad Sings. The stories are very different but there is a maturity, a strength, a balance in these stories that scream of mature women.
As Bonnie said in her interview, becoming an author later than others was also an asset as she could not have written characters so true before. When you get older, you notice more things. You are less in a rush and you get some wisdom.
To conclude that very long review, I’ll say that I was engrossed in that story, transported in the sixties with their sexism but also amazed at Elizabeth Zott’s determination and unwavering faith in her own intelligence and value. It was so hard in a world where a woman was just expected to stay at home and make babies.
Also praise for the narrator Miranda Raison who did a fantastic job impersonating Elizabeth Zott!
Thanks for reading!