The Chemistry of tears is the latest offering from the ultra talented, multi-award winning Australian author supreme Peter Carey.
The central character Catherine Gehrig is compartmentalising her work and functioning on auto pilot. You might even say she is working “like clockwork”. You see she is a horologist and ever too familiar with clock mechanisms and tick-tock paraphenallia. She is a conservator, working at the twenty-first century Swinburne Museum. She is consumed by loss, grieving the death of the married man she has been having a secret affair with for years. Whilst she is preoccupied with death, a colleague attempts to distract her by giving her the task of reconstructing a nineteenth century automaton. In her disillusioned state, obsessed by death she is entrusted with bringing the automaton back to life. What an irony. She becomes obsessed with reading the antique journals that have been packed in the automaton’s coffin. In the numerous old tea chests, padded around the pieces of the disassembled automaton, are the volumes of journals written by Henry Brandling, who commissioned the creation of the beast back in the nineteenth century.
Brandling discovered the drawing plans of “Vaucanson’s duck” designed by French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson. Brandling becomes obsessed with the idea of recreating the fully functional automaton in an attempt to give his consumptive son a new lease on life and hopefully the will to live. What is eventually created is a large silver swan, capable of eating and excreting. Like the twenty-first century character Catherine, the nineteenth century Henry is similarly grieving only he is morning the end of his marriage and the demise of his young son Percy, who is suffering from consumption
The Chemistry of Tears, tick-tack-toes between eras and voices. There are also sub-plots touching on the issues of industrialisation, modernisation, social change, and the consequential environmental damaged we make. This novel is densely layered and is loaded with over tones of grief and undertones of obsession. Those who liked Possession by A.S. Byatt will be intrigued by The Chemistry of Tears. Some will love Peter Carey’s latest work, others will just be left wondering…………………