Peter Carey, 'The Chemistry of Tears'

· Tuesday January 24, 2012

Bad news, team: people die. Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears told me so. In the book, horology conservator Catherine Gehrig is beat up about this death thing - her boss/lover kicked el cubo and it’s driven her to Stolly, rack and kleptomania. She starts restoring a mechanical bird while poring over the notebooks of Henry Blanding, the chap who commissioned the machine in 1854. He’s an Englishman adrift in Germany, mourning the death of his first child and worrying about his sickly second child. He hopes the mechanical bird will invigorate the ill kid. We get to hear from both Catherine and Henry in an Inception of grief.

Sound stodgy? It isn’t. This is a book by Peter Carey and Peter Carey is an Australian legend. A stamp told me so. In his hands, Catherine’s restoration of the automaton becomes a saga of personal growth and Henry’s trials turn into a mystery filled with ambiguity and shady Germans. While reading the book, take regular breaks to reflect on our relationship with machines, our attitude towards the unknowable and the ties between grief, madness and obsession. Five minutes every hour.

I hope you don’t mind the book’s slipperiness, I really do. There’s a lot going on and Carey is happy to let it all float about, so don’t expect resolution in neat little bows. Life’s a mystery and so on. You need to be more patient. Your mum told me so.