Critics have used every possible superlative to praise the works of two-time Man Booker Prize winner Peter Carey. In The Chemistry of Tears, Carey continues to astound with a story of love, death, and human invention. Museum curator Catherine’s affair comes to an abrupt end with her married lover’s untimely death. Denied outward grief by the nature of their relationship, Catherine retreats into isolation. Delving into notebooks more than a century old, she feels a growing connection to Henry Brandling, who in 1854 gave life to a mechanical creature.
Great! How exciting to write a negative review of a book others seem to love. And how annoying! The main character is someone I would never want to know. She is a woman who has been the lover of a man for thirteen years but thinks no one knew of their relationship. Catherine is egotistical and manic. For a "mature" woman to behave with the poor judgment she displays toward one who is kind, over and over again, is rephrehensible. Catherine acts like a baby. She drinks, snorts cocaine and feels sorry for herself. Frankly, as a woman, it was easy to tell that the author was a man. Catherine is a caricature of how a man might see a woman in such a position. And, if that is not bad enough, another woman is added to the plot and she is equally crazy and unlikeable. Follow that with a bizarre secondary story about a mechanical contraption and surely you will understand the title. No? Well, that's what is supposed to be so innocuous, right? Hardly. Avoid at all costs or prepare to be irritated.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Beautifully written, the author introduces us to the world of an expert museum conservator who becomes intrigued by a mysterious artwork that she figures out how to put together. Museum politics and office rivalries interfere with her quest, but more disabling, she grieves the loss of her secret, longterm lover. She cannot share her grief, but begins to find some distraction in discovering how to repair the mechanism of the object and in trying to get along with her new young assistant. The heroine discovers notebooks written by the nineteenth-century maker of the object, adding other layers of history and cultural contexts; there is a lot going on! Carey's book deserves to be read, as well as heard, to really savor his use of language, but the narrators make it a great listen as well. I needed to listen to "The Chemistry of Tears" more than once because the characters, especially the heroine and her relationships interested me and because the history of the object was so surprising. It is a book that has stayed with me.