THURSDAY, 30 MAY 2019There is more to scientific research than the work itself. Weike Wang’s novel, Chemistry, raises questions about the tenants of science that ignore personal lives. Under various pressures the American-Chinese narrator quits her chemistry PhD and struggles with her long-term relationship. Charting her coming to terms with these losses, the story is both upbeat and cautionary. The scientific setting is not overdone; it could be almost any science PhD in the narrator’s position. Hints of an autobiographical nature make the story all the more poignant. Weike Wang is herself an American-Chinese immigrant, having completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry before succeeding in her public health PhD. Biographies of now famous scientists are rife; this light-hearted parable of someone unsuccessfully starting their research career is both refreshing and thought- provoking. The novel should hold the attention of anyone considering a life in science, undergraduate to PhD level. For others it may either be an insight into or memory of early years of laboratory work.
Chemistry by Weike Wang was published by Knopf in 2017. Reviewed by Matthew Harris