Tag Archives: bonnie garmus

Lessons in Chemistry: When You Have a Six Hour Flight

I suppose on a six hour flight there are a lot of things you could do. Watch 1/3 of the Lord of the Rings movies. Contemplate mortality. Crotchet a hat. OR you could read Bonnie Garmus’ entirely fun Lessons in Chemistry and you might not notice the cramped seat and tiny cup of cold coffee meant to sustain you for the duration.

It is a very fun romp through the the 1960s as we follow scientist, Elizabeth Zott, who encounters sexism and gender-based violence in all the usual places, and some extras, in her efforts to simply be who she is: a scientist. The first half of the novel is something of a rom-com heavier on the rom. With the second half taken up with the shine of celebrity after Elizabeth becomes – and not too much of a spoiler here as I think its on the front cover or maybe in the prologue – a celebrity chemist-chef, maybe famous primarily because she imagines (apparently for the first time) that women might just like someone to talk to them like adult humans.

There are some lovely characters – a Mary Poppins-esque neighbour who saves Elizabeth and whom Elizabeth saves in return. A heroic dog (as a person long on the record for distrusting dogs, even I found this one endearing). A precocious child. Some rowers who – for whatever reason – are not subject to the same misogyny of the rest of their societal peers and are instead just interested in good rowers.

It is problematic in ways that we can just skip over so as to enjoy the book for what it is. But worth noting that the plot arc of individual who persists amid challenge demands a lot from individuals to pull up their bootstraps etc etc – which isn’t to say the novel isn’t aware of the structural impediments to Elizabeth’s success – quite the opposite! or that it’s not interested in how Elizabeth relies on others in a community for her eventual triumph – she does! or that there aren’t examples of other individuals who learn and grow – there are! more that in celebrating this exceptional woman – incredibly smart and tenacious – there’s something of a thread that the people likely to succeed, and those who can do the work of change, are those of the talented genius. Rather than a collective effort of community. And that if you happen to be someone who doesn’t learn to read by age 3 you might not change the world.

What a relief for me, then.

All that said: fun and absorbing and you’ll thank me when your plane is delayed for deicing and you have something to sustain you for the extra seventeen hours.


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