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The Chemistry of Tears [Hardcover]

Peter Carey
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
RRP: 17.99
Price: 12.59 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

5 April 2012

An automaton, a man and a woman who can never meet, a secret love story, and the fate of the world are all brought to 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 unexpected death of her colleague and lover of thirteen years. As the mistress of a married man she has to grieve in private. One other person knows their secret, the director of the museum, who arranges for Catherine to be given a special project away from prying eyes. Mad with grief, the usually controlled and rational Catherine discovers a series of handwritten notebooks telling the story of the man who originally commissioned the extraordinary and eerie automata she has been asked to bring back to life.

With a precocious new assistant, Amanda, at her side, she starts to piece together both the clockwork puzzle and the story of the mechanical creature which was commissioned in 19th century Germany by an English man, Henry Brandling, as a 'magical amusement' for his consumptive son. Having been asked to leave his home by his wife, Henry turns his hurtful departure into an adventure that he records for his young child. But it is Catherine Gehrig, in a strangely stormy and overheated London nearly two hundred years later, who will find comfort and wonder in reading Henry's story. And it is the automata, in its beautiful, uncanny imitation of life, that will link two strangers confronted with the mysteries of life and death, the miracle and catastrophe of human invention and the body's astonishing chemistry of love and feeling.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Edition edition (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057127997X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571279975
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 15.5 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 237,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`Everything is burnished with vitalisingly poetic images. The Chemistry of Tears isn't only about life and inventiveness: it overflows with them.' --Peter Kemp, SUNDAY TIMES

`I loved this book for its mysteries, its hinted back stories, its reserve, and its underlying complexity.' --Lucy Daniel, DAILY TELEGRAPH

`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 ... this tender tour de force of the imagination succeeds on all fronts.' --Rebecca K. Morrison, INDEPENDENT

`It is remarkable, and rather cheering, to find that the fine bloom on his writing, the sharp, green bite of emotion and the pellucid observation seem entirely unaffected by success.' --Jane Shilling, EVENING STANDARD

`Yet another triumph for its creator, breath-catchingly beautiful and tender in places, with strange and shocking revelations slowly revealed.'
--Camilla Pia, THE LIST

'The book that has haunted me all year is Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears. Carey's intricately engineered novel explores the connection between heartsickness and precise and intellectually demanding manual labour.' --Jane Shilling, THE STANDARD, Books of the Year

Book Description

Following the recent success of Parrot and Olivier in America comes another wonderfully rich tale with historical themes from the twice Booker-winner.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a tease! 17 April 2012
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition
Peter Carey is a voice man. He writes different voices very well, and puts them to good use in telling compelling stories. In The Chemistry Of Tears, Carey tells two interwoven stories - that of Catherine Gehrig, a modern day museum conservator grieving the loss of Matthew, her adulterous lover and that of Henry Brandling, a Victorian eccentric travelling to Germany to commission a clockwork duck for his ailing son. The trick, when Carey tells his interwoven stories, is to make each narrative more interesting than the other. Here he scores admirably: the reader is rudely torn away from one engrossing narrative but within a few lines in totally rapt in the alternating story.

Catherine's story is heartbreaking. Unable to publicly grieve the loss of her lover, the curator of the Swinburne Museum (presumably a V&A Museum lookalike) sends her off to a backroom to unpack tea chests containing a special project. As she begins to unpack, she discovers Henry Brandling's notebooks and various mechanical parts that need cleaning and re-assembling - presumably the duck. The restoration is absorbing, described in great detail but always in an accessible way, but the real joy is in the secondary characters. The curator, Eric Croft, is a Delphic figure - he knows about Catherine's affair; he has all sorts of hidden agenda which allows him to drip feed knowledge into conversations. He plays games with people, but gives the impression of being a benign force. Then there is Amanda, a young apprentice conservator set to work alongside Catherine - perhaps to keep an eye on her. There are other great cameos - particularly from Matthew's grown up children who fail to reassure Catherine that she didn't take their father away from them. Catherine is flaky, upset and emotional.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars lacking real chemistry 23 May 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I saw a positive review of this book on Newsnight and decided it was worth a read. I was wrong. The dual narrative of the 'conservator' mourning her lover who is given the task of restoring this mechanical wonder and that of Henry Fielding, the original 19th century patron searching for the mechanical miracle cure for his sickly son started out ok but I just couldn't care about the conservator.

The more interesting part of the narrative was indeed Henry making his way to a far-flung corner of present-day Germany to find someone who could build him this mechanical wonder but the present-day narrative just fell flat. I found myself not really caring what was happening to Catherine (the conservator) and her bereavement over her colleague/lover. Too much wallowing in self-pity and drink. Also, I work in a national museum and I can safely say, curators/conservators just wouldn't be so selfish and self-centred when it comes to precious items. Taking anything out of a museum unauthorised, would just not happen so I just didn't believe she could get away with that kind of thing.

Overall, the story, which is the key thing for me, just didn't work. It may be well written and technically brilliant or whatever else Peter Carey is supposed to be but in essence, this book, this narrative - just didn't have that chemistry that makes good storytelling a joy to become immersed in. I have to disagree with Andrew Motion on the back cover when he compares Peter Carey to Charles Dickens. Not in a million years! For me anyway.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another wonderful book 27 Mar 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Another superb and very intriguing book from Peter Carey.

The emotional turmoil of the two characters, locked into personal struggles with love and loss, in two different centuries, is handled with great finesse. As always he finds connections and parallels between his two characters and much empathy as well as anger. He skillfully uses a structure, one he's used before, of two points of view that dovetail to tell the story. The narrative has an effortless forward motion.
You would not expect anything else from Carey who truly is, as Andrew Motion says on the back cover blurb, one of our greatest living writers (I paraphrase).

I love his prose style, clean and clear with quirky bits. Well worth buying, hard to put down and over too soon.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Even worse than his last 11 Jun 2012
Peter Carey's a wonderful author! I loved "True History of The Kelly Gang" and "Theft, a Love Story"! But this one's even worse than "Parrott and Olivier in America"! As with that, there are 2 voices narrating, and here there are 2 eras portrayed. Altogether 2 tricksy! The modern narrator's immediacy is appealing, and her grief is all too believable. The other narrator's a fusty old bloke who's being made a fool of by everyone he knows, and is a bore to boot.. I lost interest in the "automaton" that they have in common, failed to take wing for me. And it grinds to an inconclusive ending with the cranking of gears, and a sigh of relief from me. Write another one quick, and make if it funny!
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mechanical marvels and raw emotions 27 Mar 2012
By Jon
In this short gripping novel Peter Carey constructs a delightful conspiratorial confection which has pleasing hints of Thomas Pynchon and Lawrence Norfolk. It is the second significant novel this year in which the narrator is the grandson of a London clockmaker: but apart from that the approach is very different to Nick Harkaway in Angelmaker.

Carey, as in Parrot and Olivier in America, has two narrators, but here one is contemporary and female. Her raw emotional state of bereavement, and the fraught relationships which she has with her colleagues, portray an edgy view of life behind the scenes at the imaginary museum of clockwork and automata. There is a wider background of environmental catastrophe and cultural fragmentation, and it becomes clear that her project is vital as the museum struggles to survive the financial difficulties posed by the current government.

The nineteenth century narrator is an equally vulnerable character, in a mould that will be familiar to readers of Carey's earlier novels. He is far from home, overseeing the commissioning of an animated duck, which will be magical, but will also hint at a future of computing and of motorisation, where three dimensional cams and "specially contrived axles and bevelled gears" will rule the day. Carey resolves his parallel plot with aplomb, but not without an appropriately tantalising hint of mystery and even conspiracy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
There is a certain quality of story telling that comes to the fore when reading books by award-winning writers. 'The Chemistry of Tears' is like this. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Greggorio!
5.0 out of 5 stars This was one I had it over the Christmas holidays.
a story within a story......Peter Carey tells the truth about emotions..warts and all.....always find his titles make you want to pick up the book... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Yvonne Walkinshaw
5.0 out of 5 stars captivating story
It's a new multi-layered and complex novel from the two-times Booker winner.

London, 2010. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Ray Garraty
3.0 out of 5 stars original but...
Original, clever, well written, some (intellectual) suspense, but I got fed up with the main feminine character, too hysterical and ungrateful, and l dropped the book unfinished... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Bernard GALTIER
4.0 out of 5 stars I didn't understand it, but I loved it all the same
I was extremely puzzled by this book from the start, but having enjoyed every Carey novel so far, trusted him and persisted. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Phil Goodwin
3.0 out of 5 stars Probably better read
Not a great consumer of audio books but thought I would give this a try. The experience was not very satisfying and what might have read quite well, came across rather arch in... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Fatgillie
2.0 out of 5 stars The Chemistry of Tears of Boredom
I didn't really see the point of this book, to be honest. It is a little postmodern in the sense that people from different places in history are connected to each other by a... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Kindle Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars A Confusing Story of Grief
The Chemistry of Tears tells the stories of Henry Brandling, who in the mid 1850s commissions the manufacture of a mechanical duck for his chronically ill son and unwittingly... Read more
Published 15 months ago by missreader
2.0 out of 5 stars Chemistry of tears
I found this book rather strange. I don't think Peter Carey understands how a grieving woman feels. I still have no idea what the automaton looked like; his powers of description... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Susie
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the effort
I can understand why this book has failed to achieve the public acclaim and popularity that has accompanied most of Peter Carey's fiction: it has a quiet, scholarly atmosphere... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Liz C
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