Bonnie Garmus made her debut with the bestselling novel Lessons in Chemistry in 2022. The novel has made an emphatic impression on many readers; many may claim millions across the world. However, the novel has many features that many have liked. At the same time, Bonnie Garmus’ book has many things that many readers don’t like. In this book review, I will share the aspects of the book that I enjoyed and the ones I thought did not synchronise with contemporary readers’ expectations. And this is a purely subjectively-written book review article. You cannot expect me to be neutral or objective. Disclaimer, to begin with!
“And being Mrs. Calvin Evans is absolutely the worst thing that could ever happen to you,” he said, his face collapsed in misery.
“I want to be Elizabeth Zott,” she said. “It’s important to me.”
And this is where the book takes the readers most of the time – unsolicited detours on the bright roads of feminism minus men (which is not ideal for many reasons, even in suggestive ways). Feminism, to an extent that synchronises with the momentum of the novel, is impactful, helpful, and seems perfect to the readers. However, when it overpowers and almost overshadows everything else (at the cost of the plot and the storyline), things go awry. At times, in this novel, the same happens.
“Cooking is not an exact science,” Elizabeth had said just yesterday. “The tomato I hold in my hand is different from the one you hold in yours. That’s why you must involve yourself with your ingredients. Experiment: taste, touch, smell, look, listen, test, assess.”
And this is something that might annoy many readers. The story is interesting but dull. The conversations are intellectual, mostly, and hyper… as well as intuitive. And monologues, the most annoying ones, have unnecessarily protracted the length of the novel and pulled the strings too far.
On a serious note, and on the brighter side, the novel discusses serious issues that demand careful attention and scrutiny. Readers will appreciate those sections where the author has struck serious blows. And I do the same. Issues like rape, women in society, women at work, identity and existential dilemmas are dealt with by the novelist in a very careful (but at times dull) manner.
Overall, this novel, Lessons in Chemistry, seems out of place. The character seldom fits in the plot. Elizabeth, the protagonist and a chemist, witty and sharp-minded, rarely fits in the storyline. It seems the novelist over-indulges herself in finding a place for her protagonist in the novel (literally and metaphorically). Readers who have read enough and understand the flow of fiction might catch the novelist on the wrong foot on many occasions throughout the story.
On the positive side, the novel offers something peculiar and serious to the readers. It takes them back to the years of 1950s and a little later. The writing is good, rather serious and in bonhomie with the scheme of the novel. Elizabeth’s monologues are uttered in the best possible words. Aesthetically and in terms of the fictional construct, Lessons in Chemistry offers the readers a chance to challenge themselves – being patient and letting the novel unfold at its pace.
Though the novel is not for everyone, let me make it clear! It is only for those readers who take pride in reading what others are appreciating irrespective of their interests and reading habits. It is serious, albeit a little more than it could have been. It is not pleasing, a little dull, but something unique. Its uniqueness adds a little more to the novel’s appeal to the readers. You can get a copy from Amazon India in the format of your choice and read it. You should, I suggest, get the free preview before you commit and buy the work by Bonnie Garmus.
Review by Ashish for Thoughtful Critic
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus – Book Review
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is a page-turner for many… and a work that belies for some! Which side are you on?