- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Random House Canada (May 15 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307361470
- ISBN-13: 978-0307361479
- Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2.3 x 24.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 476 g
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #563,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Chemistry of Tears Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 15 2012
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A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
LONGLISTED 2014 – International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
“This thought-provoking read interlinks raw human passion with complicated puzzling about human ingenuity.... The first page is arresting and shocking and it goes on that way.... Carey’s world is always interesting and thought-provoking.”
—A.S. Byatt, Financial Times
“A heart-rending meditation on grief, love and time.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Thrilling…. Such a gifted writer is always worth attending to.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A powerful novel on the frailty of the human body and the emotional life we imbue in machines.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Carey’s exceptional storytelling talents are all on prominent display here.”
About the Author
PETER CAREY is the author of eleven previous novels and has twice received the Booker Prize. His other honors include the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Born in Australia, he has lived in New York City for twenty years.
Top customer reviews
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I'm not even going to try and analyze just what the hidden, under the surface meanings are in this story, there are plenty but it gives me a headache looking at this book that way. I just want to read it and enjoy a good story. Read it I did but I only found a mediocre story. We start off on the first page meeting the main character, an adulteress, with no redeeming qualities. Her married lover has just died and she is totally wrapped up in herself. She has no cares for his children, whom he loved dearly and we learn that she often was jealous of them. She is quite younger than this man and her life seems to have existed for their relationship together, and her job as an horologist at a museum secondly. That's all, no friends, no family. Catherine, or Cat, as she is commonly called is given a project to restore to help her with her grief by the only person at the museum who knew about her affair.
The text alternates between Catherine in the present dealing with her grief, possessiveness and selfishness as she becomes somewhat obsessive over the automata that she and a young assistant, whom she dislikes and distrusts, are working on. Cat is also reading through the ledgers/journals that came packed with the assemblage which gives us the other view. Henry Blanding tells his story set in the 1850s of how he came to a strange little German town and had an even stranger man build his clockwork duck for him. His journal is written to his young son whom he promised this prized possession in hopes that it would make him well, as he is a sickly boy, most likely consumptive. Henry also is not a rather likable fellow. His wife has refused relations with him, denied to care for their son, since their first child, a daughter died the same way. She is loveless to them and Henry is pathetic in his attempts to be all and do all for this cold woman who brings in an artistic crowd to their house to have her portraits painted. Henry is eventually persuaded to leave the house, his search to make the automata his pretence for leaving. While unlike Catherine, Henry does slowly change throughout the book, for the most part he is a weak man, easily taken advantage of, of superior mind of course being an Englishman, and emotionally volatile.
There is more to say, but I shan't go on. The basic plot of the two stories was entertaining to read, the writing naturally superb, and I had no problem getting though the book quickly; I'm sure its short length helped matters though. But I had no connection to any of the characters, not liking them, nor caring what happened to them in the end. Not everyone is sane in this story and it's up to the reader to decide who is or isn't sane. Perhaps they are all off their rockers. The ending does little to satisfy this reader.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The Chemistry of Tears is a fairly quick and easy read. The protagonist, Catherine Gehrig works as a conservator at a London museum who is distraught upon the sudden death of her older lover. Her boss kindly reassigns her to a project to work on the restoration of a duck automaton.
From there, the story becomes a dual narrative alternating between the present day Catherine dealing with her grief while wrestling with the puzzle of the automaton and an English gentleman,Henry Brandling, who commissioned the construction of the mechanical duck in a remote German town in the 1850’s.
The book explores some interesting themes including how the loss of a loved one can expose the emotional safety net that a long term relationship can provide and the challenge of forging a new path -with the support of the odd bottle of vodka! However, this reader did not become emotionally invested in the characters and the narrative impact therefore fell short.
In PARROT AND OLIVIER IN AMERICA, Carey showed his ability to write -- and subvert -- the traditional historical novel. But the elements of art and fantasy that tinted that earlier book are given fuller rein here, despite a framing story that theoretically keeps its feet on the ground. Catherine Gehrig is a rationalist. A horologist at the fictional Swinburne Museum in London, her job is to catalogue and restore rare mechanical objects. But she has become unmoored by the unexpected death of a colleague, with whom she had been conducting a secret affair for years. Her boss gives her a project to distract her: the restoration of what turns out to be a mechanical silver swan, built in the Black Forest in the 1850s. Accompanying the pieces of the automaton are a series of diaries by the patron who commissioned the object, an Englishman called Henry Brandling, looking for a toy duck to restore life to his dying son. His journey to Southwest Germany brings him into contact with an extraordinary individual called Sumper, who virtually hijacks his project because he feels it is his sacred mission to build him something better.
Seen as a piece of straight narrative, this book would be rather a mess. Carey crams a lot into it, from Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine (a forerunner of the computer), through the invention of the internal combustion engine, to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. But I don't think it IS meant to be taken straight. Having just come from reading Italo Calvino, I must admit to a tendency to read everything as though it were surreal, but all the same I see a deliberate excess in Catherine's language, and certainly in her behavior, as she purloins precious objects to study them at home, and gives in to drinking and uncontrolled mood swings. Gradually, the alternating chapters headed "Catherine" and "Henry" are interspersed with others entitled "Catherine & Henry," as the two grief-stricken narrators virtually combine.
We are no longer in straight historical novel territory here, even the relative clarity of split-period novels such as Simon Mawer's MENDEL'S DWARF. The manner is much more like Peter Ackroyd's CASEBOOK OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN or even more his HAWKSMOOR. There were moments when I felt the shadow of Kazuo Ishiguro, or Paul Auster, or Orhan Pamuk. This is relatively new territory for Carey, and I don't know that he has mastered it yet. But he writes well. "The sky was black and bleeding like a Rothko," he says of an approaching London storm. Later on, one of his characters references the painter in defense of the aesthetic of ambiguity: "Without ambiguity you have Agatha Christie, a sort of aesthetic whodunnit. But look at any Rothko. You can look and look but you never get past the ambiguities of colour, and form, and surface." The first step in Catherine Gehrig's healing is her acceptance of ambiguity. It may be a frustrating process for the reader, but I did find it an interesting one.
Generally, I enjoy books that connect and juxtapose protagonists through time or circumstance. However, the description of both sets of lives lacked 'meatiness' and clarity in my opinion.