Oh dear, I think I’m going to have to be that person dumping on a popular book again. Unfortunately, Lessons in Chemistry really tried my patience- particularly after I waited 6 months for the reserve to come through- so I guess you’ll all have to sit through my lecture 😉
Fundamentally, I’d say this book’s biggest problem is that it’s a bit precious. In many ways, it reminded me of Love on the Brain- minus the fun. The author has a MESSAGE and she won’t let you go until she’s rapped you over the head with it. She may as well have forced us all to write lines: the past was patriarchal, the past was patriarchal, the past was patriarchal… ad infinitum.
Except so much of this felt like tampering with history and had a peculiar sense of unreality. Not only is it written with such contempt for a world that is long gone, it also features a modern character masquerading as a woman from the fifties. She’s a woman out of time in such a way she doesn’t seem to fit the time period at all- which made me wonder why it was set in the past to begin with. The aesthetic of the 50s barely exists as window dressing.
Add to that the fact that much about Elizabeth is unlikeable and I had a real problem. Especially since I was clearly meant to root for her. We are supposed to take her quirks and unsociability as endearing and a sign of her perfection. She’s way ahead of her time (about 50 years or so) and loves making sure everyone else knows it (even if that means insulting any woman who finds pleasure in being a housewife). I think the idea was to have her be a static character, with everyone around her changing for the better… except she’s no Paddington bear and instead comes across as somewhat insufferable.
Aside from that, the general tone of preachiness began to grate on my nerves. There was a sense of female superiority, with lines like “marriage counsellors would go out of business if men just listened to women”. I also wasn’t impressed with the delusion that men and women are the same physically, so no need to separate for sports teams! I shouldn’t need to give a so-called science inspired book a lesson in biology (or common sense for that matter). If you’ve ever trained with a man, you’ll know this isn’t the case. I just don’t get why this book has embraced this idea- if it’s supposed to be feminist, then why must it go with the implication that the only way to be a successful woman is to be a man?! This coupled with the nausea for stereotypically female pursuits makes it seem like a book that doesn’t care for the feminine at all.
The plot was… middling. I found some parts cliché and designed to manipulate an emotional response (without actually managing it). That said, I was satisfied with how everything came together and even somewhat impressed by the ending.
All in all, this wasn’t the worst book in the world, it just lacked a certain pizzazz I’d expect from this kind of bestseller. Still, what makes me wonder about this book is how on earth has it been a massive success?!? Because every single person I talk to about it found it simply average. Yet the reviews seem positive online and it’s literally ***everywhere***. This really felt manufactured as a popular book- it certainly didn’t get to these heights organically. It’s very much a case of success breeding success- everyone is advertising it, so everyone reads it, so it gets more advertisement etc etc etc. I just don’t get why. One can only assume it’s because THE MESSAGE is on point for the publishing industry. And that’s a lesson for us all.
Rating: 3/5 bananas
So, have you read this bestseller? Did you get the hype? Let me know in the comments!