Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus
This was the third attempt at writing a novel for 64 year old Bonnie Garmus, and the one that’s made her a household name among bookworms. (Her first two were rejected 98 times by publishers. The first one was over 700 pages!)
This book was started in 2015. The writing of it had many interruptions from work and constant moves. Once out, it became an international best seller, with over 75.000 copies sold in the UK in eight weeks.
The story, set in 1961, introduces us to a brilliant scientist, Elizabeth Zott, whose career has been derailed by rape, misogyny and men who stole her work and published it in their name.
Chemistry is her thing. She has no wish to marry or have children, but falls in love and lives with a famous ugly scientist who dies an untimely death after tripping over a lead attached to their dog called 6.30; a delightful character, with an above average IQ (like my dog Josie, except 6.30 has well over 600 words in his vocabulary. Josie has less than 100 as far as I know, but she probably doesn’t want me to know she is so smart)!
The first two chapters address a society which “lets the boys win” with the suggestion that to succeed in a job women sleep their way to the top, the treatment by police of women who are raped, the treatment in schools of children of above average intelligence, the early onset of anorexia, and work that is offered to men but not women.
That’s a lot of stuff to hit the reader with – “the assumption that men are more suited to do any job when they may be less capable and less intelligent, in a society that believes men go to work to do important things, discover planets, develop products, create laws – and women stay at home and raise children”.
Garmus said of this book, “I wanted to salute that generation of overlooked housewives” and “I tried to show ten different points of view of women who were prevalent in the 60s.”
Lessons In Chemistry has been translated into 39 languages, and is being made into a series for Apple TV to be released next year.
Garmus lives in London with her husband and a greyhound called 99. They have two daughters in their 20s. She is a swimmer and rower, with her own indoor rowing machine. She is a humanist, has no religion, supports climate change research, and gives time and money to homeless people.