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18Apr

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus review – the right comic formula

A tale of female disempowerment in the 50s and 60s gets a culinary tweak in this sweet revenge comedy

Every now and again, a first novel appears in a flurry of hype and big-name TV deals, and before the end of the first chapter you do a little air-punch because for once it’s all completely justified. Lessons in Chemistry, by former copywriter Bonnie Garmus, is that rare beast; a polished, funny, thought-provoking story, wearing its research lightly but confidently, and with sentences so stylishly turned it’s hard to believe it’s a debut.

Since the success of The Queen’s Gambit and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, there’s been a renewed interest in stories of pioneering women fighting to prove themselves in traditionally male arenas in the years – late 50s and early 60s – before second-wave feminism took off. Elizabeth Zott, the heroine of Lessons in Chemistry, follows firmly in their footsteps; the book also nods to the rediscovery of TV chef Julia Child as a trailblazer, and even echoes Breaking Bad’s Walter White in Elizabeth’s mantra: “Chemistry is change.”

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