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Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: 'ladies, design your own future'

A funny, thought-provoking story of 1960s chemistry, cookery and chauvinism told through unwitting trailblazer and resolute, Elizabeth Zott.


It's 1961. We meet Elizabeth Zott, leaving home with a heavy heart to perform her unconventional TV cookery show, Supper at Six.


Underestimated, victimised, and unjustly dismissed from her job as a research chemist, Elizabeth doggedly supports her small family of young daughter, Madeline, and unusually intuitive dog, Six Thirty.


Cookery, chemistry and chauvinism

Imparting chemistry principles and female emancipation to her audience of 1960s housewives, Elizabeth Zott becomes a reluctant TV star.


Funny, sad, and infuriating, Elizabeth finds herself an unwitting trailblazer for the right of women to do what they do best.


'Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future.'


Scorned, grief-stricken and miserable, the disillusioned Zott attempts to pursue her research simply because it's not within her to give up, as witnessed by her weirdly comprehending canine.


We can understand Zott's struggles as a scientist, daring to challenge the status quo—a woman suffering abuse at work for simply being distinct and intelligent. We are familiar, too, with the complicity of some women in policing other women's behaviour.


'In short, the reduction of women to something less than men, and the elevation of men to something more than women is not biological: it's cultural.'


Even Elizabeth's young daughter Mad recognises that sometimes we camouflage our true selves to spare us judgment from others.


Witty, moving and in parts shocking

The writing is witty and compelling, adept at using flashbacks to reveal Elizabeth's blighted career and ill-fated love affair with fellow brilliant scientist and soulmate Calvin Evans.


Bonnie Garmus creates a character of searing intelligence and steadfast adherence to how things should be done. This stance often leads Elizabeth to be misunderstood and into unlooked-for conflict.


By turns, this is a wryly funny and moving story. Elizabeth Zott conducts her life her way, incapable of acting in any other.


The reactions of others and the consequences of her unconscious, uncompromising attitude creates comic and tragic elements. We experience both highly comical and disturbing moments with the unbending Elizabeth.


A warning, the writing switches from laugh-out-loud comedy to describe shocking events and potentially distressing descriptions.


Thankfully, the storyline has a good ending which neatly wraps up the strands of the narrative to a satisfying conclusion.


Today's reaction to an Elizabeth Zott?

What would we think of Elizabeth Zott if we met her today?

We want to think that 60 years on, we are more familiar with and accepting of variations in thought and behaviour.


Are we more tolerant of differences today than in the 1960s?


Highly recommended

Bonnie Garmus weaves a thought-provoking narrative enabled by the fascinating and engaging Elizabeth Zott, underpinned by an entertaining cast of supporting characters.


I highly recommend this funny, clever, and intriguing novel that delivers a convincing resolution.


Happy reading!


If you enjoyed Lessons in Chemistry you may also like The Maid, The Disappearing Act, or Can you See Her.


I also listened to this on audiobook and the narrator Miranda Raison is excellent.


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