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The Chemistry of Tears Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 15, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Carey (Parrot & Olivier in America, 2010) is a bewitching storyteller preternaturally attuned to our endless struggles over love and eccentric obsessions. In this fairy tale within a fairy tale rife with historical and literary allusions, Catherine, a horologist (an expert in the science and instruments of measuring time) on the staff of a London museum, is mad with grief after the sudden death of her married lover and struggles to focus on the new restoration project her sympathetic boss hopes will comfort her. She does become enthralled by the notebooks of Henry Brandling, a wealthy nineteenth-century Englishman who went to Germany to commission an automaton for his ailing son, only to come under the spell of Sumper, a hulking, vehement inventor who may be a thief, brute, genius, or all three. As she unfolds Henry’s mysterious ordeal, Catherine meticulously reconstructs Sumper’s elaborate, mechanized wonder, work complicated by her increasing fears about her possibly deranged assistant. Set during the Gulf oil crisis and reminiscent of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007) in its linkage of a rescued automaton and loneliness, Carey’s gripping, if at times overwrought, fable raises provocative questions about life, death, and memory and our power to create and destroy. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Two-time Booker Prize winner Carey’s sterling reputation, a hefty first printing, and the novel’s echo of the book behind the Oscar-winning film Hugo make this a hot title. --Donna Seaman


“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)

“A powerful novel on the frailty of the human body and the emotional life we imbue in machines . . . 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.”
Publishers Weekly (starred, pick of the week)
“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.”

“This is a brilliant book, full of secrets, mystery, grief and love . . . Impossible to put down.” 
Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Australia)


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307592715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307592712
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #824,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Upon reading the description of Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears, I couldn't help but think of Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and I know I'm not the only reader to make this connection. So much was that children's novel in my mind, that I just assumed the automaton in this novel was also a mechanical man. It is not. It is a duck (Or is it?) being manufactured at great expense to cheer (Cure?) an ailing child. (An ailing marriage?) We learn of these goings-on in 1854 from the extensive notebooks of Henry Brandling, the Englishman who commissioned the device from a dubious craftsman in rural Germany. And we explore those notebooks via Catherine...

Catherine Gehrig is a horologist at London's Swinburne Museum. She's a conservator who specializes in timepieces and clockwork mechanisms. As the novel opens, she has just learned that her colleague and married lover of the past 13 years has died suddenly. She is completely overcome with grief, but she's unable to show it due to the secret nature of their relationship. However, she's equally unable to hold it in. She breaks down in front of "the worst possible witness in the world." It's her boss, Eric "Crafty Crofty" Croft, and it seems her secret wasn't as well kept as she had thought.

Croft shows her the best kindness he is able. As a start, he gets her relocated to the museum's annex where she can work away from prying eyes. And, he gives her a complex and important project with which to distract herself. It is, in fact, the restoration of Henry Brandling's duck.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Nicola Mansfield on August 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Reason for Reading: Peter Carey's True History of the Kelley Gang is one of my all time favourite books and I've always meant to read another by the author. With this latest book coming out, the time period and the automata piqued my interest enough to decide to give him another go at this time.

I'm not even going to try and analyze just what the hidden, under the surface meanings are in this story, there are plenty but it gives me a headache looking at this book that way. I just want to read it and enjoy a good story. Read it I did but I only found a mediocre story. We start off on the first page meeting the main character, an adulteress, with no redeeming qualities. Her married lover has just died and she is totally wrapped up in herself. She has no cares for his children, whom he loved dearly and we learn that she often was jealous of them. She is quite younger than this man and her life seems to have existed for their relationship together, and her job as an horologist at a museum secondly. That's all, no friends, no family. Catherine, or Cat, as she is commonly called is given a project to restore to help her with her grief by the only person at the museum who knew about her affair.

The text alternates between Catherine in the present dealing with her grief, possessiveness and selfishness as she becomes somewhat obsessive over the automata that she and a young assistant, whom she dislikes and distrusts, are working on. Cat is also reading through the ledgers/journals that came packed with the assemblage which gives us the other view. Henry Blanding tells his story set in the 1850s of how he came to a strange little German town and had an even stranger man build his clockwork duck for him.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on June 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Already twice a winner of the prestigious Booker Prize, Peter Carey now offers his readers The Chemistry of Tears, a complexly constructed study of grief and self-identity set in contemporary London. Despite its modern-day setting (2010), however, the novel can also legitimately be called historical fiction as much of its story is lifted directly from the pages of a nineteenth century Englishman's personal diary.

Catherine Gehrig is a conservator at the Swinburne Museum whose thirteen-year affair with a married colleague is still a mostly well-kept secret. As far as she knows, no one at the museum suspects that she and Matthew Tindall, one of the museum's head curators, have a relationship of that sort. Their secret is so successfully kept, in fact, that when Matthew dies suddenly, Catherine is among the last of the museum employees to get the news. Now, her whole world in turmoil, she must pretend that she has not been emotionally crippled by her devastating grief.

Fortunately for Catherine, her boss - the one man who now seems to have been aware of the affair - places her on immediate sick leave before transferring her to a more isolated museum annex to work on the unusual project he has chosen for her. There Catherine finds eight boxes filled with the diagrams and mechanical parts needed to restore and assemble what appears to be a160-year-old duck automation. It is when she discovers a series of notebooks relating to the origin of the automation that Catherine becomes obsessed with her new assignment.

Carey will, from this point, alternate accounts of Catherine's life with pages taken from the notebooks of Henry Brandling, the Englishman who originally commissioned the amazing automation she is working to reconstruct.
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