The Chemistry of Tears

Peter Carey won two Booker Prizes , and rightfully so because his writing is distinctive and precise, with intricately crafted sentences and carefully detailed plots and characters.  His latest novel, The Chemistry of Tears, is particularly suited to this style of writing because of the main character’s work as a horologist (a specialist in the mechanisms of clocks and the measurement of time).

The book follows the horologist, who has just lost the love of her life, as she is assigned a project to reconstruct an elaborate automaton (basically, a mechanical animal) and learns more about the man whose love for his dying son caused him to commission the piece long ago.  The point of view alternates between the horologist and the patron, finally sort of converging as love and loss play out in their lives in different eras but in similar ways.

The book deals with interesting themes of mourning and the meaning and mechanism of being alive, while also giving fascinating technical detail about museum restorations and the development of mechanics.  Carey has a real talent for transporting readers into new worlds by giving a window on narrow specialties you may never have otherwise known existed.

Also characteristically for Carey’s work, The Chemistry of Tears ends with considerable ambiguity–depending on your mood and temperament you might find this frustrating or you might like the way that the open ending allows you to think about a wider variety of interpretations.

Because of his writing style, Carey’s books can be hard to get through if you’re not used to detailed reading that requires a lot from the reader, but it’s really worth it to press on, if only to learn about all of the intriguing sub-topics he covers and to appreciate the literary value of the writing.

 

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