It wasn't what people were talking about late into the evening at the Frankfurter Hof. It didn't come up over drinks at the Hessischer Hof. No one was whispering about it between meetings in the window-less rights center at the show. Instead, during this year's virtual Frankfurt Book Fair, Bonnie Garmus's debut novel, Lessons in Chemistry, was discussed over email, on the phone and via Zoom. None of this, however, stopped it from becoming what is arguably the book of this year's event.
The title, which sold for a rumored $2 million to Lee Boudreaux at Doubleday, is, according to multiple sources, one of the biggest books of this strangest of fairs. One scout called it "the clear book of the fair from a foreign rights perspective." Another insider said "it’s what everyone is talking about."
While Boudreaux took North American rights to the title (in a deal brokered by ICM's Jennifer Joel, on behalf of Felicity Blunt at Curtis Brown UK) a swath of foreign sales have also been closed. At press time, Blunt confirmed that, in addition to the English language sale, the book has sold in 22 other deals.
Garmus, an American, relocated to the U.K. before Covid-19 forced international borders to be closed. She found representation after registering for Curtis Brown's creative writing course. Blunt said she saw a portion of the manuscript and was immediately impressed. "I rarely sign on a partial, but Bonnie’s prose--sharp, smart and warm--made it an easy decision."
The novel, set in the early 1960s, follows a woman whose dream of being a scientist is put on hold in a society that deems women belong in the domestic sphere, not the professional one. When she then accepts a job as a host on a TV cooking show, she sets out, Blunt explained, " to teach a nation of overlooked housewives--and the men who suddenly find themselves listening--a lot more than recipes."
Garmus, a copywriter and creative director who has worked in the U.S. and abroad, is based in Seattle, but is currently living in London.