The Atomic Weight of Love follows Meridian, an intelligent and brilliant young woman, from the age of seventeen when she’s starting university in 1941, to the present day when she’s in her eighties.
While at university she falls in love with an older man, Alden, an intelligent but mysterious professor. They end up getting married and she follows him to Los Alamos where he’s working on a secret project (which we later find out is the atomic bomb). For him she gives up her hopes of studying for a PhD and of furthering her career in ornithology (the study of birds).
We follow our main character through the decades as she makes and loses friends, falls into temptation with a younger man and deals with the changing roles and increasing power of being a woman.
This novel is many things – it definitely has a feminist slant as Meridian promotes this throughout her story. At the end of the book we learn what she is up to in her later years and it really is fantastic.
It’s also a very erotic novel in parts, as we’re with her as she discovers the power and freedom of sex and truly explores it for the first time.
And, brilliantly, it’s also a novel about the strength and guidance gifted by strong female friendships. As much as the novel covers so many other areas, this is the part that spoke to me most. Throughout the book Meridian speaks of following Alden’s path throughout her life however it’s her friends that guide her and are there for her when things get tough (which they often do!).
Although focused on science, elements of art and poetry start to make their way through…
Take one Naive Girl. Bring to room temperature in the Big City.
Add three cups Academia.
Mix in one cup Encouragement.
Fold in two drop Love.
Sprinkle with one teaspoon Adoration.
Spoon carefully into greased Pan of Matrimony.
Bake in Desert Heat for 25.
Test doneness with Careless Toothpick.
Let cool on Wire Rack of Inertia.
Serve with generous dollops of Benign Neglect.
I did have a few problems with the book. It felt a lot longer than its 350 pages and at times in the middle felt like it was dragging. It was one of those novels that seems to take you a lot longer to read. The writing was absolute perfection but there was so much going on at times that it was quite difficult to read.
I also struggled at first with the storyline about Meridian and the younger man. How it came about just felt very unrealistic and like he was just an obvious plot device to contrast so severely with Alden, who was becoming increasingly distant. But I’m so glad I persevered as the relationship between them developed into something absolutely beautiful.
In the end, despite my reservations in the middle, I had to give The Atomic Weight of Love 5 stars. It was an absolute delight to read and I am so glad I stuck with it. I know the story will stay with me for a long time.
Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK for a copy of The Atomic Weight of Love in exchange for an honest review.