The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

What the actual hell, Peter Carey?

No doubt it’s un-Australian of me to begin a review of Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears with that. But honestly… It started well. Then the middle bit… that’s where I started saying words like ‘hell’ and ‘eff it, I have to re-read that bit because what in God’s name was that about…’. And then the end – I’m sure it was terribly clever and studded with meaning. Only problem was that all the clues about the no-doubt exquisite ending were planted in the WTF middle bit.

“I find the notion that mysteries must be solved to be very problematic. You know what I mean? Every curator finally learns that the mysteries are the point.”

So you may wonder why I finished this odd (dual) story about Catherine Gehrig, a modern woman who conserves clocks, and Henry Brandling, a nineteenth-century Englishman who travels to Germany to commission an automaton as an amusement for his consumptive son. Well of course, being Peter Carey you get exceptionally lovely words. Even the book title is perfection.

“Crafty Crofty was, to put it very crudely, the master of all that ticked and tocked. He was a scholar, a historian, a connoisseur. I, in comparison, was a well-educated mechanic.”

“There was an awful crack of thunder and a sizzling sort of noise. It was not yet raining, but the sky was black and bleeding like a Rothko. And the, from around the cornet, there appeared a taxi, with a lovely yellow light.”

“Being a member of that cruel race of fairytale collectors, he was very pleased by this disaster. He pursed his lips. He sliced his cheese.”

2/5 It’s really just a slip of a book but the dense middle section wore me out. Though, if you’re keen, here’s a review that makes it sound like a truly top read.

In Germany, Henry eats white asparagus. When I was 15, I was an exchange student in the south of Germany and I was served white asparagus. Like Henry, I’d never seen the white version and thought it was terribly exotic.

“‘…you might translate Spargel as edible ivory.’
‘Königsgemüse,’ said the musical boy…
‘It is the King’s vegetable,’ announced Frau Helga placing in front of me a plate of white asparagus and small unpeeled potatoes.”

This recipe from Eat Me Drink Me for white asparagus with honey-dijon sauce looks ace.


4 responses

  1. Interesting review. Glad to know that someone else finds Carey often difficult to read. I’ve given up on him though I’m not sure what that makes me!

    • This one may have pushed me to edge as well… 🙁 Would probably only read another if someone whose reading tastes I really trusted pressed more Carey on me. That said, I would re-read The True History of the Kelly Gang, which was brilliant.

    • His writing is beautiful. I think his best book is The True History of the Kelly Gang, which focuses on a very specific part of Australian history (so perhaps isn’t so interesting to people not familiar with Victorian bushranger, Ned Kelly). Equally good (and the perfect place to start with Carey) is Oscar & Lucinda.

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