February 14, 2012

The Chemistry of Tears - Peter Carey


The latest Peter Carey novel, The Chemistry of Tears, seemed to be released with very little fanfare in Australia but I was totally captivated by it's title and cover and I bought it without even knowing a thing about it - very rare for me.
The book is the story of Catherine, a woman in her early 40's who works as a conservator with London's Swinburne Museum. As the book opens Catherine has just discovered the sudden death of her married colleague and secret lover of the past 13 years. The relationship has been a defining one for Catherine, even though the existence of it has not been able to be spoken about outside the two of them, and she is devastated by not only Matthew's death but by her inability to grieve openly for his loss.
In an attempt to console and distract her, Catherine's manager passes on to her a complex project involving the reconstruction of an elaborate mechanical bird. Catherine becomes obsessed with the project and by the the man who commissioned the machine in the 1850's, Henry Brandling. Henry's diaries are discovered by Catherine in amongst the boxes of the birds various parts and she becomes attached to them and the story they tell - the story of a father trying to cure his seriously ill child through the gift of a miracle.
This is a beautiful story, obscure and difficult to follow in parts but no less magical and transformative for the effort it takes at times to persist with the story. I was captivated by Catherine as a character - her pain and flaws as much as her courage and resilience.  Peter Carey does not always hit the mark for me but this time he absolutely did - I couldn't put this one down until I had read the last word.

14 comments:

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I love books about art restoration and conversation. So much that I did a whole reading challenge last year on it.

This one sounds right up my alley, although I was very underwhelmed by my first Peter Carey: Parrot and Olivier in America.

Andi said...

This one looks and sounds fantastic. I adore the cover and the premise is great, too!

Steph said...

I always think that Carey's books sound fascinating... and yet I've never read anything by him! I have heard that he can be hit or miss, so perhaps that's why I've been reluctant to try anything out, in case I find the execution doesn't live up to the premise? Definitely think this one sounds irresistible though!

Jackie Bailey said...

I have had a hit/miss relationship with Carey too, but I am looking forward to trying this one. I'm glad it worked for you.

Ellie Warren said...

That cover appeals to me but I think I'd have to be ina certain mood to keep up if it's hard to follow.

Relish said...

This Peter Carey offering sounds really lovely - might have to make sure I'm not feeling too melancholy before reading it though :-) It sounds quite bittersweet. I'm always a bit so-so with Carey as well. I always seem to abandon his novels three chapters in which is quite unlike me.

Karen said...

Hi Alex - I really loved P&O (much to my surprise) but I think you would enjoy this one a lot more because of the topic area - it does sound like it is right up your alley!

Hi Andi - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Hi Steph - Carey is definitely a hit and miss author for me although I have to say his last two books have been big hits for me.

Hi Jackie - I really hope you enjoy this one...

Hi Ellie - I think it is a book you need to be "in the mood for"!

Hi Relish - there definitely is a lot of sadness and melancholy about this one...

Gondal-girl said...

Glad to hear someone else has read this book, though I felt like I wanted more... SPOILER ALERT almost - did the little boy survive in the end? (The sick one?) I felt it didn't resolve this for me, help me Karen!

As for PC - brilliant - only Bliss I have struggled with.

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