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An automaton, a man and a woman who can never meet, two stories of love—all are 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 sudden death of her colleague and lover of thirteen years. As the mistress of a married man, she must struggle to keep the depth of her anguish to herself. The one other person who knows Catherine’s secret—her boss—arranges for her to be given a special project away from prying eyes in the museum’s Annexe. Usually controlled and rational, but now mad with grief, Catherine reluctantly unpacks an extraordinary, eerie automaton that she has been charged with bringing back to life.
As she begins to piece together the clockwork puzzle, she also uncovers a series of notebooks written by the mechanical creature’s original owner: a nineteenth-century Englishman, Henry Brandling, who traveled to Germany to commission it as a magical amusement for his consumptive son. But it is Catherine, nearly two hundred years later, who will find comfort and wonder in Henry’s story. And it is the automaton, in its beautiful, uncanny imitation of life, that will link two strangers confronted with the mysteries of creation, the miracle and catastrophe of human invention, and the body’s astonishing chemistry of love and feeling.
“Peter Carey’s dazzling new novel, The Chemistry of Tears, encompasses heartbreak, the comfort of absorbing work, the transformative power of beauty and the soul of an old machine. If you’ve never read [Carey], it is a terrific introduction to his work. Once again, he demonstrates an artful ability to capture a two-way interplay between past and present that is part historical, part fanciful, and completely wonderful. . . . Carey’s gorgeously written, intricately assembled book runs as smoothly as a well-oiled machine.” —Heather McAlpin, NPR
“Carey has built us a captivating replica of the most timeless piece of machinery of all—a broken heart. . . . There is soul music in Catherine’s expressions of longing. . . . A profoundly detailed study of love and grief.” —Tyrone Beason, Seattle Times
“[An] ambitious, playful, and engagingly strange novel.” —Troy Jollimore, San Francisco Chronicle
“Both touching and thought-provoking. . . . Such a gifted writer is always worth attending to.” —Andrew Miller, New York Times Book Review
“The plot has a clockwork precision that’s chillingly inventive. . . . Carey is a master novelist.” —Jeff Baker, The Oregonian
“A powerful novel on the frailty of the human body and the emotional life we imbue in machines. . . . Catherine and Henry, linked both by the automaton and by grief, ponder questions of life and death, questions that, as posed by Carey, are more fascinating than any solution.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, pick of the week)
“An excellent novel. . . . Its ambition is considerable. . . . The appeal of science might lie in its promise to solve the world’s most difficult problems, but Carey’s achievement with The Chemistry of Tears is, by means of a story about science, to depict our most taxing problems in their full insolubility.” —Tom Perrin, The National
“Wonderful. . . . This deeply moving, intellectually profound novel on the heartbreaking grief of ‘living machines’ tells the story of the essential human desire to return to the individual Edens that we inhabited before we knew about the unavoidable pain of our mechanical lives. . . . Beautifully told.” —Minsoo Kang, Nature
“Carey is a bewitching storyteller preternaturally attuned to our endless struggles over love and eccentric obsessions. . . . This [is a] fairy tale within a fairy tale rife with historical and literary allusions. . . . Raises provocative questions about life, death, and memory and our power to create and destroy. . . . Gripping.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist
“Few writers manage so consistently and delightfully as Peter Carey to conjure wondrous scenes populated with idiosyncratic yet credible characters. The Chemistry of Tears does not disappoint. . . . Carey is one of the finest living writers in English. His best books satisfy both intellectually and emotionally; he is lyrical yet never forgets the imperative to entertain. . . . A wholly enjoyable journey.” —The Economist
“It is a unique combination of raw human passion and complicated puzzling about human ingenuity. . . . Carey creates Catherine’s lonely and obsessive misery so brilliantly. . . . She is completely convincing. . . . Carey’s world is always interesting and thought-provoking.” —A. S. Byatt, Financial Times
“Carey manages these time-shifts and other complications with the same easy-seeming mastery that he shows in all his novels. But here the fluency seems especially apt, because it is always devoted to the service of machines that themselves depend on being cunningly assembled and delightful. In other words, there is an immaculate fit of means with themes. . . . Carey has tackled some of these ideas before (the most obvious precursor to the construction of machines in this book is the transportation of the church in Oscar and Lucinda). But here everything has been designed, tooled, oiled, and fitted together with greater economy and an equal panache. Does this mean the book ends too neatly? No. Even as it settles its main concerns, it floats new ideas, and emphasises latent themes.” —Andrew Motion, The Guardian
“A tender novel of secrets, sorrow, and heartache. . . . Carey writes like a dream. His twelfth novel is a compelling cocktail or beautiful prose, emotional complexity, and impressive ingenuity. Like the strange clockwork creature at the centre of the book it adds up to an irresistible, if eccentric, whole.” —Emma Lee-Potter, The Express
“Characters that beguile and convince, prose that dances or is as careful as poetry, an inventive plot that teases and makes the heart quicken or hurt, paced with masterly precision, yet with a space for the ideas to breathe and expand in dialogue with the reader, unusual settings of place and time: this tender tour de force of the imagination succeeds on all fronts.” —Rebecca K. Morrison, The Independent
“Another stylish tour de force. . . . With typical dogged panache, Carey’s exploration of technology and tears indicates that emotion defies rationalism’s impositions.” —Catherine Taylor, Sunday Telegraph
“Carey’s exceptional storytelling talents are all on prominent display here. Catherine’s and Henry’s voices are lustily generated and expertly distinguished from one another; contemporary London and 19th-century Germany are conveyed in lightly distributed yet powerfully evocative physical detail; both narratives are invigorated throughout by a thrilling verbal energy, and an almost unfailing knack for alighting on the mot juste. These are precisely the qualities that have always characterised Carey’s novels, and which have twice made him an eminently deserving winner of the Booker Prize.” —Edmund Gordon, The Observer
“A story that’s as ingenious as any piece of clockwork. . . . Carey evokes the Brothers Grimm atmosphere of the Black Forest with extraordinary skill. [There’s] a lot of fascinating information too . . . imparted painlessly and with enormous ingenuity. It’s enlivened by flashes of illuminating description and comedy. . . . There is also an enticing sharpness in the language . . . Beautifully made, entertaining, and comic.” —Brian Lynch, Irish Independent
“The Chemistry of Tears [is] alive with the evocation of place and period that is always Carey’s forte. . . . Damage done by mankind’s mechanical creativeness is highlighted in a novel by one of the present day’s most unconventionally creative writers. Oddball characters are propelled along by zigzagging narrative channels, connections made with whimsical aplomb. As always, too, everything is burnished with vitalisingly poetic images. The Chemistry of Tears isn’t only about life and inventiveness: it overflows with them.” —Peter Kemp, Sunday Times
“It is not an exaggeration to say that Peter Carey has given new meaning to the term ‘historical fiction.’. . . Impressively, he continues to produce another masterclass every couple of years. . . . His are not just books with historical settings, but also about history, not just refitting real documents to new stories, but about that process. . . . Despite the Victorian backdrop, this is not rampant, costumed Victoriana, but masterly historical fiction that both talks about now, and makes the past seem immediate. . . . There are passages of almost hallucinatory zeal, and figures that rise up like creatures from myth. I loved this book for its mysteries, its hinted back stories, its reserve, and its underlying complexity.” —Lucy Daniel, Daily Telegraph
“The health of a sick child, the broken heart of a bereaved woman, a museum’s budget cuts: it is a heavy freight of expectation for one beautifully engineered mechanical bird to bear. Yet Peter Carey’s intricately constructed narrative, with its tender, astringent reflections on the nature of love and mortality, human ingenuity and human destructiveness, convinces the reader that such a thing is entirely possible. . . . It is remarkable, and rather cheering, to find that the fine bloom on Carey’s writing, the sharp, green bite of emotion and the pellucid observation seem entirely unaffected by success and a (well-deserved) place in the modern canon.” —Jane Shilling, Evening Standard
“A compelling picture of all-consuming love in the 19th and 21st centuries. . . . The Chemistry of Tears is yet another triumph for its creator, breath-catchingly beautiful and tender in places, with strange and shocking revelations slowly revealed. But perhaps most impressive is the Australian writer’s ability to evoke emotion through human recollection; subsequently engrossing us in the mania of two very different narrators, and the increasingly strong ties between them.” —Camilla Pia, The List
“A beautifully elegiac hymn to lost love. . . . Audacious yet restrained, tender yet sardonic, and filled with moments of emotional complexity.” —Patrick Allington, Australian Book Review
“This is a comic novel [but] also a serious examination of love and loss and grief and obsession and how we manage to keep going even when all clocks have stopped.” —Stephen Romei, The Spectator
“The Chemistry of Tears is at once exuberant and chastening in its portrayal of loss . . . Shows the playful side of Peter Carey at full stretch.” —Peter Pierce, Canberra Times
“This is a brilliant book, full of secrets, mystery, grief and love. . . . Impossible to put down. . . . A beautiful, complex narrative.” —Lizzie Stafford, Sunday Mail (Brisbane)
“Peter Carey [is] a consummate storyteller, vastly and raucously entertaining.” —Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald
“Carey’s latest book is just as beautifully written and entertaining as its predecessors. Written in his signature style, moving and witty at the same time, his narrative takes hold right from the beginning and maintains its pace throughout. . . . Profoundly moving but leavened with Carey’s characteristic whimsical humour together with his refined and polished narrative style, this is a most delightful read.” —Mary Ann Elliott, The Chronicle
“A potent alchemy of life, death, yearning and loss but also a cautionary tale.” —Simon Mann, The Age
“A frisky, imaginative account of two companion souls grappling with love, grief and the possibility of magic.” —Jennifer Byrne, The Monthly
“The characters are all memorable, the modern ones particularly making inroads into the reader’s heart. . . . [A novel about] what we are and where we are going as humans.” —Katharine England, The Advertiser (Adelaide)
“[Carey] remains a writer with an unerring sense for the perverse in human affairs. The continual and guilty delight of these early sections, the funniest, most cutting and anarchic, is that they acknowledge what we know to be true but dare not say: grief gives delirious licence to all those behaviours we otherwise hold in check.” —Geordie Willamson, Weekend Australian