Book Review: The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey

| 30 March , 2012 | Reply

Peter Carey\’s latest book, The Chemistry of Tears, is a story of love and loss, passion and mystery.

Catherine Gehrig is an horologist; single, elegant, apparently leading a quiet and orderly life as befits a scientist whose days are spent restoring clocks in the Swinburne Museum. But then a colleague dies.  Matthew Tindall, the love of her life, her long-term lover, has died suddenly of a massive heart attack on the London Underground. The prosaic nature of his death runs counter to the passion of their secret affair, and Catherine, mad with grief and anger, cannot mourn Matthew publicly since he was married.

Help comes in the form of Eric Croft, Head of Horology, who unbeknownst to Catherine has been aware of the relationship with Matthew since it started. Now, in a kindly attempt at helping her heal, he offers Catherine the chance to work on restoring a unique clockwork automaton, a duck. This strange object was commissioned in the mid-19th century  by a grieving Englishman, Henry Blandling Esq., in a desperate attempt to save his ailing son\’s life. Catherine has little interest in the object until she finds the notebook diaries of Henry\’s search for clockmakers who are capable of making the object he believes will save his son. They follow Henry\’s journey to Furtwangen, a village high in the Schwarzwald, whose inhabitants might have come out of a Grimm\’s fairytale.

Against all museum rules, she takes the notebooks home. The more she reads, the more she becomes drawn to the story of Henry\’s search and the strange world that he encounters. Then Catherine is annoyed to find she has been assigned a pretty young assistant, Amanda, who is soon at loggerheads with Catherine. Who is Amanda?  Is she there to help Catherine, or to spy on her?  Or is she the person who first understands what is hidden at the heart of the object: a secret that has already changed the history of the planet and which might yet have the power to destroy it?

Peter Carey\’s prose is elegant and extraordinary.  As the layers of meaning in the story are peeled back, the warning contained in the notebooks becomes clear:  ‘You are wholly unable to associate what you are seeing with what life has taught you.\’  I thoroughly recommend this book.

Available now: Penguin RRP$39.95


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