Annabel Smith's Reviews > The Chemistry of Tears

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey
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Apr 30, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: australian
Read from April 24 to 29, 2012

This novel seemed promising but never really reeled me in.

Catherine Gehrig, grief stricken at the death of her (secret)lover, throws herself into her work at a London museum, restoring an enormous complex automaton. Along the way she learns the story of Henry Brandling, who commissioned the design of the automaton for his dying son, a century earlier.

Neither Catherine nor Henry are particularly sympathetic characters. Catherine is prickly and difficult and though this is attributable to her grief, it didn't make me like her anymore. Henry is endearing, especially in his love for his child, but his story unfortunately becomes hijacked by the story of the automaton's creator, the annoying and verbose Sumper, whose own story also gets hijacked eventually by the story of Sumper's mentor. Which I found all rather dull.

There was some lovely writing - "Henry's saw-tooth pen strokes had cut wormholes into time...Through one of these wormholes, as thin as a drinking straw, I had seen all that bright and poisonous invention" - and I found the relationship between Catherine and her assistant dramatic and interesting to read.

But overall the book was just too cryptic for me. At one point Catherine muses on Henry Brandling's story: "what was initially confusing would never be clarified no matter how you stared and swore at it. One learned to live with fuzziness and ambiguity" But I'm afarid I did't learn to live with fuzziness and ambiguity. At the end of the book I understood that some epiphany had occurred but I didn't know what it was and I wasn't sufficently interested to re-read it and work it out. Which isn't really the mark of a great book, is it?

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06/21 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Cornmaven I used that very word, "cryptic" in my review. I personally don't think there was much of an epiphany, where there should have been.


Annabel Smith Cornmaven wrote: "I used that very word, "cryptic" in my review. I personally don't think there was much of an epiphany, where there should have been."

Unfortunately I can't read your review Cornmaven but I'm with you all the way!


Kate Just finished this book. Not sure I'll write a review, instead will refer people to yours ;-)

I liked the idea, loved some of the words but there was a dense middle section (dense despite the fact that it's a slip of a book) about Henry/Sumper that wore me out.


Annabel Smith Kate wrote: "Just finished this book. Not sure I'll write a review, instead will refer people to yours ;-)

I liked the idea, loved some of the words but there was a dense middle section (dense despite the fact..."


Yep. It definitely lost its way. Have Carey's new one on my TBR - wonder how that will go.


Kate I'll wait to see what you think before reading it!

I've loved some of his previous books (notable True History of the Kelly Gang) but this one... odd.


Annabel Smith Kate wrote: "I'll wait to see what you think before reading it!

I've loved some of his previous books (notable True History of the Kelly Gang) but this one... odd."


I adore Oscar and Lucinda -it's one of my favourite Australian books of all time. I also loved Theft. I haven't read The Kelly Gang.


message 7: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Baron I could have done without Sumper and his mentor completely.


Annabel Smith Deborah wrote: "I could have done without Sumper and his mentor completely."

It seems a common response - I wonder why it didn't get dressed in the editing process


Nancy I felt exactly the same after reading this book. I, also, could have done without Sumper and most of the "Henry" chapters, so I skipped most of the latter ones. Thanks for a great review.


Annabel Smith Nancy wrote: "I felt exactly the same after reading this book. I, also, could have done without Sumper and most of the "Henry" chapters, so I skipped most of the latter ones. Thanks for a great review."

Thanks Nancy


message 11: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Peter Carey's recent novels (the ones I've read) are a bit like that: instances of brilliant writing, good ideas, but they seem to fall short in the telling.


Annabel Smith Steve wrote: "Peter Carey's recent novels (the ones I've read) are a bit like that: instances of brilliant writing, good ideas, but they seem to fall short in the telling."

Have you read Amnesia? I'm yet to read that one but it didn't get much attention which makes me suspicious that it ain't great.


message 13: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve I have read Amnesia. It's not great. Clever and witty moments, but it was a trial to read. And it's sold as thriller-like, and it's definitely not that. I was expecting the story would centre around a computer hacking and the outcome of prisons all being unlocked. But no, it's about a writer trying to write a book about a hacker! There are so many more enjoyable books out there.


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