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.