I know Peter Carey is a ‘good’ writer, because he has won the Booker Prize twice and the Miles Franklin Award three times. A few years ago I tried to read Oscar and Lucinda, but I kept falling asleep. I couldn’t even watch the movie. However, knowing that his writing deserved a bigger effort from me, I tried his writing again with The Chemistry of Tears.
To sum up, the story is told by Catherine Gehrig, a horologist who works at the Swinbourne Museum in London. (Google kindly informed me that a horologist is someone who works with clocks and watches and other things used to measure time). The story begins with Catherine learning that her married lover, who also worked with her at the Swinbourne, has unexpectedly died.
Catherine’s boss recognises Catherine’s need to grieve privately and also her need for distraction, so gives her a project to complete in privacy. The project is to piece together a automated bird from the nineteenth century, which was commissioned by Henry Brandling for his dying son. Henry’s journals accompany the parts of the bird and Catherine reads his story.
I didn’t like this story. I didn’t like Catherine or Henry or any of the other characters, who were all mad, mostly from grief. Henry seemed sane at the beginning of his journal but by the end he was journaling about all sorts of things which he seemed to believe, which I couldn’t. The Chemistry of Tears is probably full of morals or allegories or something like that which I didn’t understand, because they were too much of an effort for me to think about.
Also, I find automatons creepy. The automated duck in this book supposedly defecates. I can’t imagine why anybody would want to build one.
Still, I might try The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey sometime, which is the story of an actual Australian bushranger who robbed people, killed people, was captured in a shootout and eventually hung at the old Melbourne Gaol, becoming a legend in the process.
Peter Carey is a legend too, but I’m starting to think his writing style is not to my taste.