The Chemistry of Tears


I finished this book last week but have found it difficult to decide how I should review it.  Peter Carey is a novelist of some repute being one of only four writers to have won the Booker Prize twice.  He is an Australian writer.

My first reaction to the novel is that it reminded me a great deal of the movie Hugo.


The story is about  an horologist, in the depths of grief, and her restoration of a 19th-century automaton.  It is a story of sorrow and mechanical wizardry and includes a little humour in parts.

The story has two strands with the modern day horologist reading the journal of the gentleman who commissioned the automaton. I found that towards the end of the story I was more interested in the horologist strand rather than the historical strand.  I also felt that there were some questions left unanswered at the end of the story.  The novel started off wonderfully but at the end I thought that much was unresolved.

From the book jacket:

An automaton, a man and a woman who can never meet, a secret love story and the fate of the warming world are all brought to incandescent 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.  Her boss at the museum, aware of Catherine’s grief, gives her a special project – to piece together both the mechanics and the story of an extraordinary and eerie automaton.

The mechanical creature is a clockwork puzzle, commissioned in nineteenth century Germany by an English man, Henry Brandling , as a “magical amusement” for his consumptive son.

Linked by the mysterious automaton, Catherine and Henry’s stories intertwine across time to explore the mysteries of life and death, the miracle and catastrophe of human invention and the body’s astonishing chemistry of love and feeling.

I bought this book after listening to Peter Carey being interviewed on the Radio National Books and Arts Daily.  You can listen to the podcast here.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I haven’t read anything by him but I am sometimes surprised by the books that win awards. It sounds as if he has a loyal following and writes the kind of thing a lot of people want to read. Do you think this book might be made into a film, or is it too similar to Hugo?

    1. suth2 says:

      There are too many similarities to Hugo. Hugo is also a story of love, loss and an automaton but from the point of view of a child. I don’t think Chemistry of Tears would translate well into a film.

  2. Yvonne says:

    Thanks for this post, that’s another future read bookmarked 🙂

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