The Chemistry of Tears

Peter Carey

The Chemistry of Tears

London 2010: Catherine Gehrig, conservator at the Swinburne museum, learns of the sudden death of her colleague and lover of thirteen years. As the mistress of a married man, she must struggle to keep the depth of her anguish to herself. The one other person who knows Catherine’s secret—her boss—arranges for her to be given a special project away from prying eyes in the museum’s Annexe. Usually controlled and rational, but now mad with grief, Catherine reluctantly unpacks an extraordinary, eerie automaton that she has been charged with bringing back to life. 3.9 out of 5 based on 12 reviews
The Chemistry of Tears

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardcover
Pages 288
RRP
Date of Publication April 2012
ISBN 978-0571279975
Publisher Faber and Faber
 

London 2010: Catherine Gehrig, conservator at the Swinburne museum, learns of the sudden death of her colleague and lover of thirteen years. As the mistress of a married man, she must struggle to keep the depth of her anguish to herself. The one other person who knows Catherine’s secret—her boss—arranges for her to be given a special project away from prying eyes in the museum’s Annexe. Usually controlled and rational, but now mad with grief, Catherine reluctantly unpacks an extraordinary, eerie automaton that she has been charged with bringing back to life.

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Reviews

The Daily Telegraph

Lucy Daniel

Despite the Victorian backdrop, this is not rampant, costumed Victoriana, but masterly historical fiction that both talks about now, and makes the past seem immediate. More subdued than much of his back catalogue, there are still passages of almost hallucinatory zeal, and figures that rise up like creatures from myth. I loved this book for its mysteries, its hinted back stories, its reserve, and its underlying complexity.

23/03/2012

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The Independent

Rebecca K Morrison

Characters that beguile and convince, prose that dances or is as careful as poetry, an inventive plot that teases and makes the heart quicken or hurt, paced with masterly precision, yet with a space for the ideas to breathe and expand in dialogue with the reader, unusual settings of place and time: this tender tour de force of the imagination succeeds on all fronts.

30/03/2012

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The Sunday Times

Peter Kemp

Damage done by mankind’s mechanical creativeness is highlighted in a novel by one of the present day’s most unconventionally creative writers. Oddball characters are propelled along zigzagging narrative channels, connections made with whimsical aplomb. As always, too, everything is burnished with vitalisingly poetic images. The Chemistry of Tears isn’t only about life and inventiveness: it overflows with them.

25/03/2012

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The Evening Standard

Jane Shilling

The health of a sick child, the broken heart of a bereaved woman, a museum’s budget cuts: it is a heavy freight of expectation for one beautifully engineered mechanical bird to bear. Yet Peter Carey’s intricately constructed narrative, with its tender, astringent reflections on the nature of love and mortality, human ingenuity and human destructiveness, convinces the reader that such a thing is entirely possible.

23/03/2012

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The Financial Times

AS Byatt

This is not an easy book to read. I was haunted throughout by the sense of a pattern of ideas that I couldn’t grasp. At the other extreme, Carey creates Catherine’s lonely and obsessive misery so brilliantly that it is both painful and claustrophobic for the reader. The first page is arresting and shocking and it goes on that way.

07/04/2012

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The Independent on Sunday

Nina Caplan

This novel lacks the wicked energy of Parrot and Olivier or Theft: A Love Story. But if Carey's best books are superlative, the next tier down is still better – meatier, more imaginative – than many writers ever manage. The Chemistry of Tears is awash with grief, some of it Carey's: for the breathless faith in our own perfectibility that has degenerated into environmental disaster.

15/04/2012

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The Daily Telegraph

Catherine Taylor

... passages, where Sumper’s self-justifying autobiography dominates the narrative, make one impatient for Catherine’s input, and the mystical implications of Carl’s person are far-fetched. Yet the mysterious, awful object finally unveiled is a triumph – a symbol of the new Industrial Revolution imparting a dire warning to the overheated planet that is industrialisation’s legacy. And with typical dogged panache, Carey’s exploration of technology and tears indicates that emotion defies rationalism’s impositions.

12/04/2012

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Times Literary Supplement

Lidija Haas

As its title suggests, The Chemistry of Tears is formed around the idea of the human body and its feelings as an intricate but potentially explicable system. Both Henry and Catherine imagine themselves and other people in those terms, as mechanisms that work in similar ways to the automata they want to construct ... [It] is unavoidably reflexive in its focus on what is necessary to create lifelike effects, on the “artist who can observe the natural movement of the human figure, and then know what cams he must cut to achieve his counterfeit”. Carey here frequently seems less interested in purveying a naturalism of his own than in musing on how such a thing is done, on the precision and detachment needed to evoke feeling, the vast complex systems, the thousands of moving parts, the countless hours of work required to make a spark of life ...

13/04/2012

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The Guardian

Edmund Gordon

The kind of novel Carey writes – a kind in which character is intimately related to plot – is perhaps not the ideal scaffold on which to hang such grand and unanswerable questions about the soul ... For all its brilliance, The Chemistry of Tears is a novel that speaks to the intellect rather than the heart – it is a complex and expertly crafted piece of machinery, but not an altogether convincing representation of life.

30/03/2012

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The New York Review of Books

Alan Hollinghurst

In The Chemistry of Tears it is as if Carey’s impatient energy has accelerated further. Both Catherine’s and Henry’s stories are wildly subjective and elliptical, written generally in very short ejaculatory paragraphs, often of just a few words. This relentlessly staccato manner is a plausible way to convey disturbed mental states, heightened emotions of fear, anger, panic, grief, as well as the dislocations of drink, and the local effects it produces are often brilliantly vivid, even if a story told this way can leave the reader breathless and emotionally unengaged.

16/08/2012

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The Spectator

Richard Davenport-Hines

Gehrig as a bereaved woman, and Brandling as a cuckold who is scared that his adored child is mortally ill, are figures of sympathy who dissipate their good will. She is impulsive, ungrateful, rash, bitchy — a nightmare of alcoholic self-obsession. He is complacent and starchy, with the masochistic pliancy often seen in the sons of self-made tycoons, but stunningly ungrateful to people who help him ... This is a subdued, even careworn book with a wary attitude to dehumanising technology. There are neat descriptions of lush German landscape, but none of the elating richness of Carey’s spectacular Australia-based novels.

24/03/2012

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The New Statesman

Talitha Stevenson

The connections between the two stories are strange. Each narrative is driven by an act of magical thinking related to the value its subject places on a mechanised bird: Catherine uses the reconstruction of it to displace her grief for a lover and Henry hopes it will keep a dying child alive. But Carey is a methodical ­author and the novel hums with thematic ­resonances. His central intellectual concern – to question the relationship between nature and machine – finds numerous expressions: in Catherine’s self-medication with alcohol, in the fact that she is a horologist who has neglected her biological clock and in the reductiveness of her grief. The cumulative poetic effect is as forceful as it is baffling.

03/05/2012

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