I managed to bag myself a free copy of this book for agreeing to review it, and I'm finally getting around to doing so. Not too late, I'm sure! Although Chemistry for Beginners claims to have been written by a certain Mr Anthony Strong, it's actually Anthony Capella using a pseudonym. He thought the style and theme of the book was so far removed from anything he'd done before that it would more sensible to sell it under another name. A good idea, I suppose, although actually this isn't a million miles from something like 'The Food of Love.' His really distinctive title, I think, is 'The Various Flavours of Coffee.'
So, what is this book actually about, and what makes it so different from his previous novels? Well, for a start, there's an awful lot more sex. Well, not sex as such. Rather, orgasms. Dr Steven Fisher works in a research lab at Oxford University studying female orgasms, as he's hoping to develop a female Viagra pill. All is going swimmingly until he receives a new test subject, the mysterious young lady dubbed 'Miss G.'
Miss G is a university student who is in a stable, long-term relationship, but fails to have orgasms when she has sex with her boyfriend. She comes to the lab hoping they might be able to help her. However, the mystery is that all the lab equipment indicates that Miss G is able to orgasm, and yet she appears to feel nothing physically. A puzzler, to be sure.
Some of the scientific detail is interesting here. In fact, it's not so much scientific detail as trivia thrown in to increase interest in the story, reminiscent of the way Bill Bryson writes, only sexier. For example, there's a quite in-depth description of the orgasm of a human female and the uniformity with which it will occur in any given person.
The problem with it is that what the book gains by including the trivia it loses in plot. Dr Fisher is deliberately portrayed as a stereotypically obtuse and rather emotionally stunted man who doesn't realise that Miss G finds him attractive and / or has feelings for him. As a result, we are left with a plot in which no progress seems to be made, even from the scientific point of view, and instead the plot seems to be cyclical, arriving back at the same point once every few pages, in a most frustrating manner!
As with 'The Food of Love,' I found that Capella had taken an intriguing and original idea and started off well in the style of writing and the characterisation and then gone off on a bit of a tangent and 'lost the plot,' both literally and metaphorically, which is a shame.
I would cautiously recommend this book, on the basis that it's quite unique and may be of interest to the non-prudish among you (!), but I certainly wouldn't recommend it for a school library bookshelf, for instance! I would also be hesitant to say that it's worth the shelf price (currently only out in hardback and £12.74 on Amazon), as the plot is quite weak. See if you can get a charity shop or library copy first, before shelling out too much hard-earned cash for it.