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22 April 2013

'The Chemistry of Tears' by Peter Carey

A world without love becomes a world without trust

The premise is simple and sad.  A woman must grieve the sudden death of her lover in private.  Her boss at The Swinburne Museum, where she works as a horologist, is aware of her awkward situation and gives her a complex assignment to distract her.  With a pile of boxes come the journals of Henry; the man who commissioned an automaton built in the 19th century to please his dying son.  I felt grown up as I read this book.  The topics while simple, assumed complexity rather like the automaton itself.  The writing style itself treats me as intelligent and curious.  Not to say that other books treat me like an idiot but sometimes I detect the hand of an editor who wants a story or a writer to be more accessible.

As we see Catherine unpack, clean, sort and eventually reconstruct a large moving duck (eventual swan... of course) we also see the design and construction of it through the journals of Henry.  Both stories go back and forth across time and space; hope and despair; understanding and confusion; love and loneliness; trust and suspicion.  The sad point is that what you ask for is not always what you receive, no matter how beautiful.  The duck was supposed to move and pretend to eat and swim.  It was turned into a complex, expensive swan; a work of art and not a toy for a child.  Catherine wants peace to mourn her lover publicly, naturally, but her pain and passion is turned into a project for a museum to attract fresh funding.

Trust becomes a deep issue in both stories.  Henry realizes he cannot trust his wife or his brother and those in their social circle.  Catherine cannot trust her colleagues or at times herself.  A world without love becomes a world without trust... not the other way around.  With love, between lovers and between father and son, the inconsistencies of those around them did not matter.  Without love there is no shield or comfort from the shock of death, illness, grief and betrayal.  Tears are chemically different when shed in genuine sadness as opposed to coughing hard or laughing.  There were a lot of tears shed in this book.  

Peter Carey 
ISBN: 9780571280018 

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