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The Chemistry of Tearsby Peter Carey
Synopses & Reviews
An automaton, a man and a woman who can never meet, two stories of love — all are brought to incandescent life in this hauntingly moving novel from one of the finest writers of our time.
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.
As she begins to piece together the clockwork puzzle, she also uncovers a series of notebooks written by the mechanical creature’s original owner: a nineteenth-century Englishman, Henry Brandling, who traveled to Germany to commission it as a magical amusement for his consumptive son. But it is Catherine, nearly two hundred years later, who will find comfort and wonder in Henry’s story. And it is the automaton, in its beautiful, uncanny imitation of life, that will link two strangers confronted with the mysteries of creation, the miracle and catastrophe of human invention, and the body’s astonishing chemistry of love and feeling.
"After the sudden death of her married lover, London museum conservator Catherine Gehrig channels her grief into the task of restoring a 19th-century automaton, in Carey's powerful novel on the frailty of the human body and the emotional life we imbue in machines. Catherine, a horologist at the Swinburne Museum, and curator Matthew Tindall carried on a secret affair for 13 years. After Matthew dies of a heart attack, Catherine's boss assigns her a project in the Swinburne Annex, away from the gossip. Numb with heartache, she's uncharacteristically uninterested in opening eight sealed tea chests until the day of her lover's funeral, when she discovers inside the chests 11 notebooks filled by Englishman Henry Brandling in 1854. The narrative then shifts to Henry's point-of-view with his discovery of the inventor Vaucanson's plans for a mechanical duck, just the thing, Henry thinks, to make his young consumptive son, Percy, happy. He travels to Germany in search of a master clockmaker, and Carey (Parrot and Olivier in America) alternates between present-day Catherine's progress with repairing the avian automaton and Henry's notebooks, about which Catherine becomes more obsessed as Henry meets a mysterious and potentially dangerous craftsman who promises to build him his 'heart's desire.' Catherine and Henry, linked both by the automaton and by grief, ponder questions of life and death, questions that, as posed by Carey, are more fascinating than any solution. Agent: Amada Urban, ICM." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Few writers manage so consistently and delightfully as Peter Carey to conjure wondrous scenes populated with idiosyncratic yet credible characters. The Chemistry of Tears does not disappoint....Carey is one of the finest living writers in English. His best books satisfy both intellectually and emotionally; he is lyrical yet never forgets the imperative to entertain....A wholly enjoyable journey." The Economist (UK)
"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." The Independent (UK)
"Carey's exceptional storytelling talents are all on prominent display here. Catherine's and Henry's voices are lustily generated and expertly distinguished from one another; contemporary London and 19th-century Germany are conveyed in lightly distributed yet powerfully evocative physical detail; both narratives are invigorated throughout by a thrilling verbal energy, and an almost unfailing knack for alighting on the mot juste. These are precisely the qualities that have always characterised Carey's novels, and which have twice made him an eminently deserving winner of the Booker Prize." The Observer (UK)
"Carey's world is always interesting and thought-provoking....It is a unique combination of raw human passion and complicated puzzling about human ingenuity....Completely convincing." A. S. Byatt, Financial Times (UK)
"Carey's latest book is just as beautifully written and entertaining as its predecessors. Written in his signature style, moving and witty at the same time, his narrative takes hold right from the beginning and maintains its pace throughout....Profoundly moving but leavened with Carey's characteristic whimsical humour together with his refined and polished narrative style, this is a most delightful read." The Chronicle (Australia)
"The Chemistry of Tears isn't only about life and inventiveness: it overflows with them." Sunday Times (UK)
"An excellent novel....The appeal of science might lie in its promise to solve the world's most difficult problems, but Carey's achievement with The Chemistry of Tears is, by means of a story about science, to depict our most taxing problems in their full insolubility." The National
"Carey [demonstrates] the same easy-seeming mastery that he shows in all his novels. But here the fluency seems especially apt, because it is always devoted to the service of machines that themselves depend on being cunningly assembled and delightful. In other words, there is an immaculate fit of means with themes." The Guardian (UK)
"A tender novel of secrets, sorrow, and heartache....Carey writes like a dream. His twelfth novel is a compelling cocktail or beautiful prose, emotional complexity, and impressive ingenuity." The Express (UK)
"Beautifully made, entertaining, and comic....A story that's as ingenious as any piece of clockwork." Irish Independent
"I loved this book....It is not an exaggeration to say that Peter Carey has given new meaning to the term 'historical fiction'....Impressively, he continues to produce another masterclass every couple of years." Daily Telegraph (UK)
"A beautifully elegiac hymn to lost love....Audacious yet restrained, tender yet sardonic, and filled with moments of emotional complexity." Australian Book Review
"Wonderful....This deeply moving, intellectually profound novel on the heartbreaking grief of 'living machines' tells the story of the essential human desire to return to the individual Edens that we inhabited before we knew about the unavoidable pain of our mechanical lives....Beautifully told." Nature
"This is a brilliant book, full of secrets, mystery, grief and love....Impossible to put down." Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Australia)
From the two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize: An automaton, a man and a woman who can never meet, a secret love story, and the fate of the warming world are all brought to incandescent life in this hauntingly moving novel from one of the most admired writers of our time.
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.
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