The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

57%

47 Critic Reviews

...at arm’s length, too far away to get an accurate look....The Chemistry Of Tears aims to put these two damaged people back together, and in Catherine’s case, it almost succeeds, but without revealing how they really operate, it’s an empty exercise.
-AV Club

Synopsis

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.
 

About Peter Carey

See more books from this Author
PETER CAREY is the author of eleven previous novels and has twice received the Booker Prize. His other honors include the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Born in Australia, he has lived in New York City for twenty years.
 
Published May 15, 2012 by Vintage. 242 pages
Genres: Other, Literature & Fiction, History, Science Fiction & Fantasy. Fiction
Bookmark Counts:
1
Want to Read
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for The Chemistry of Tears
All: 47 | Positive: 23 | Negative: 24

Kirkus

Below average
May 01 2012

A puzzling novel that doesn’t reveal its secrets easily... too fanciful to pass as realism yet too inscrutable for parable or fable.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Andrew Miller on May 25 2012

“The Chemistry of Tears” takes risks, is quietly ambitious and is, in its last pages, both touching and thought-provoking.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on May 20 2012

Even readers who balk at this novel’s arbitrary flourishes will grasp its obsession with technology’s effect on the natural world.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Andrew Motion on Apr 06 2012

...there is an immaculate fit of means with themes ...these themes turn out not simply to concern the beauty of science, but the ways in which science and humans interact and overlap.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Edmund Gordon on Mar 30 2012

For all its brilliance, The Chemistry of Tears is a novel that speaks to the intellect rather than the heart – it is a complex and expertly crafted piece of machinery, but not an altogether convincing representation of life.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from Guardian

Publishers Weekly

Excellent
Apr 23 2012

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.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NPR

Excellent
Reviewed by Heller McAlpin on May 16 2012

Carey's gorgeously written, intricately assembled book runs as smoothly as a well-oiled machine.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from NPR

Financial Times

Excellent
Reviewed by AS Byatt on Apr 07 2012

The novel is baffling as well as exciting. It is a unique combination of raw human passion and complicated puzzling about human ingenuity.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from Financial Times

Book Reporter

Excellent
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 25 2012

THE CHEMISTRY OF TEARS is erudite, whimsical, and more than a little frustrating at times...as with Carey's other books, this one --- in its grand scope and intimate explorations --- is absolutely worth any effort it takes to decipher its inner workings.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Zsuzsi Gartner on May 11 2012

This is virtuoso writing, but the idea, thematically important to the novel, remains undigested throughout, not unlike the grain eaten by M. Vaucanson’s famous bird.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from Globe and Mail

Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Emily Donaldson on May 24 2012

Leave it to a protean virtuoso like Peter Carey to write a novel, The Chemistry of Tears, that draws compelling parallels between a Victorian-era automaton of a defecating duck and the 2010 BP oil spill. And...to make...it delightful.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from Toronto Star

Toronto Star

Excellent
Reviewed by Emily Donaldson on May 24 2012

The Chemistry of Tears could well deliver Carey the Booker hat trick, but even if it doesn’t it will do little to stanch a snowballing sense that Carey is the finest writer Australia has produced.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from Toronto Star

AV Club

Below average
Reviewed by Ellen Wernecke on May 28 2012

...at arm’s length, too far away to get an accurate look....The Chemistry Of Tears aims to put these two damaged people back together, and in Catherine’s case, it almost succeeds, but without revealing how they really operate, it’s an empty exercise.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from AV Club

National Post arts

Below average
Reviewed by Philip Marchand on May 18 2012

What to make of this I do not know...I wish I could sense more coherence in all of this.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from National Post arts

The Washington Post

Below average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on May 22 2012

The brilliant parts of this novel make it sound like another Carey masterpiece, but sometimes even though a thing walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s not.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The Independent

Excellent
Reviewed by Nina Caplan on Apr 15 2012

This novel lacks the wicked energy of Parrot and Olivier or Theft: A Love Story. But if Carey's best books are superlative, the next tier down is still better – meatier, more imaginative – than many writers ever manage.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The Independent

Excellent
Reviewed by Rebecca Morrison on Mar 30 2012

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.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The Telegraph

Excellent
Reviewed by Catherine Taylor on Apr 12 2012

...another stylish tour de force...Carey’s exploration of technology and tears indicates that emotion defies rationalism’s impositions.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The Telegraph

Excellent
Reviewed by Lucy Daniel on Mar 23 2012

I loved this book for its mysteries, its hinted back stories, its reserve, and its underlying complexity.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The Bookbag

Below average
May 03 2012

...Catherine herself sums it up best late on in the book when she narrates about reading Henry's journals, '[I]n fact you soon learned that what was initially confusing would never be clarified no matter how you stared and swore at it'. I was glad it wasn't just me then.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Washington Independent Review of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Tina Irgang

Much of the book is marked by disjointed, confusing narration, which seems to veer aimlessly from one event or subject to the next. It’s a fitting state of mind for characters torn apart at the seams by their emotional pain, but detracts from the reader’s ability to become truly invested in the plot or its protagonists.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

San Francisco Chronicle

Excellent
Reviewed by Troy Jollimore on May 20 2012

This ambitious, playful and engagingly strange novel does not, perhaps, burn quite so brightly or shimmer quite so beguilingly as Carey's best books. But it is still quite lovely, and rather like an automaton, it does seem to add up to more than the sum of its parts.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Oregon Live

Excellent
Reviewed by Jeff Baker on May 19 2012

Luckily for the unwary reader, Carey is a master novelist capable of pulling all this together with a casual brio.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Independent.ie

Below average
Reviewed by Brian Lynch on Mar 31 2012

The problem with the book -- and it's been a real problem with Carey for some time now -- is that even as one is impressed by the niftiness of the writing and the storytelling, one wonders what they are being done for.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The New Republic

Below average
Reviewed by Judith Shulevitz on Jun 04 2012

Carey is one of the most original novelists writing today, so I told myself that my inability to understand was precisely the point, proof that Geniuses are Superior Beings...But this distrusting patron couldn’t help suspecting a technical malfunction.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Mail Online

Below average
Reviewed by Michael Arditti on Apr 10 2012

There may be an inner logic to the novel, which unites its disparate elements like the hidden mechanism of the automaton, but, regrettably, it has eluded this reader.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Time Out New York

Below average
Reviewed by Drew Toal on May 09 2012

Carey’s dot-connecting between past and present, life and death, environmental issues and the advent of modern mechanization, strains credulity at times... His elegant touch is somewhat lost, though, on his Ms. Gehrig, who is too much of a robot herself to inspire any real sympathy.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

New Statesman

Below average
Reviewed by Talitha Stevenson on May 03 2012

...his new novel is method first, with madness spread all over it, as if the human story were an afterthought, less interesting than the essay at the novel’s core. Like Vaucanson’s duck, The Chemistry of Tears is a mechanical marvel but it’s not all that much like life.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The Spectator

Below average
Reviewed by Richard Davenport-Hines on Mar 24 2012

There are neat descriptions of lush German landscape, but none of the elating richness of Carey’s spectacular Australia-based novels. Readers who revelled in his mid-life exuberance will find him at the age of 69 sombre and apprehensive.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

New Zealand Listener

Excellent
Reviewed by Paula Morris on Apr 28 2012

... if it lacks the verve, humour and energy of many of Carey’s previous novels, it shares much that’s compelling with his best fiction, including a tremendous intellectual curiosity, historical mysteries and a plot that reads both as an adventure story and an elaborate puzzle in its own right.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The Age

Excellent
Reviewed by James Ley on Feb 11 2012

Like so much of his writing, The Chemistry of Tears ticks along as smoothly and satisfyingly as a pocket watch. It is a work of consummate craftsmanship.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Time Out Chicago

Excellent
Reviewed by Jonathan Messinger on May 17 2012

It’s an intellectually and empathically astute novel, which will be one of our favorites until his next release in a couple of months.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Full Stop

Excellent
Reviewed by Meagan Day on Jun 07 2012

Carey leads Henry into a...sinister hinterland peopled with hostile peasants, obstinate innkeepers, idiot savants, demented clockmakers and ethereal wunderkinds...readers’ enjoyment of these passages (as well as the novel more generally) is sure to correspond to their appetite for tales involving alchemy, mystery and gloom.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Dawn.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Mohsin Siddiqui on Sep 30 2012

Throughout the novel, we see the complexity of opposition: illusion versus reality, art imitating life, mechanical translations of the organic...if Carey’s gentle hints are to be believed, the alchemy of the spirit is just as important as the science of the body.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The Monthly

Excellent
Reviewed by Jenifer Byrne

Science does what it must; humans comprehend what they can. Carey makes this clear but leaves the reader to ponder the consequences while savouring a frisky, imaginative account of two companion souls grappling with love, grief and the possibility of magic.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Side B Magazine

Below average
Reviewed by Danielle Bukowski on May 29 2012

...the novel is held at a slow simmer, technically effective but not propelled by real tension or drama... Between the odd coincidences and throwaway outbursts plus reconciliations, much of the drama is lost.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

National Post arts

Above average
Reviewed by Philip Marchand on May 18 2012

As a cry to a dead lover, this is not unmoving, but as a conclusion it reflects all too well the novel’s grab bag of notions.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears | See more reviews from National Post arts

Luxury Reading

Below average
Reviewed by Vera on Jun 21 2012

There were a few moments in which a connection was possible, but they were very few in number and were only small blurbs, not enough to sustain the novel.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Literary Treats

Below average
Reviewed by Jaclyn on Jul 16 2012

I generally look for a gripping plot, a story that will transport me, and unfortunately, Chemistry didn’t do that. The language is, indeed, pretty...after a while, it just felt indulgent to me...

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Bookmunch

Below average
Apr 02 2012

Although nowhere near as irritating as Parrot & Olivier in America, The Chemistry of Tears retains many of the hallmarks of what makes Carey’s renown inexplicable.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Good
Reviewed by Lisa Hill on Jan 26 2012

... in a splendid return to the dazzling form which produced Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey’s new novel, The Chemistry of Tears, is a deliciously eccentric tale of obsession, centring on clockwork, and grief.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Tony's Book World

Below average
Reviewed by Tony on Jun 03 2012

... “The Chemistry of Tears” did not work for me at all... I never could see how the two stories in “The Chemistry of Tears” fit together on any emotional level.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Kevin from Canada

Below average
Reviewed by Kevin on Jun 14 2012

...a confusing and often frustrating novel. Carey is a more than competent wordsmith and it is a good thing or the experience would have been worse.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Just William's Luck

Below average
Reviewed by William Rycroft on Apr 17 2012

It's an enjoyable enough read but my enthusiasm for turning the pages towards the end came more from the prospect of finishing it rather than wanting to know how it finished.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Tom Conoboy's Writing Blog

Below average
Reviewed by Tom Conoboy on Oct 01 2012

The Chemistry of Tears begins to explore fascinating territory but, somewhere along the line, it runs out of confidence and thematically it slides into disappointment

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Sparrow Reads

Below average
Apr 09 2012

Carey also writes beautifully, and if I am honest, sometimes a bit too artfully. I found I could never fully sink into the characters of Catherine and Henry because I was always reminded of the writing, the pace often becomes awkward, with sentences abrupt. I

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

The History of Emotions Blog

Below average
Reviewed by Dr. Stephanie Downes on Mar 10 2012

There was something jarringly metaphysical about the nineteenth-century sections of the novel, too dreamlike, murky, and ambiguous; too open to interpretation; almost too hard to read.

Read Full Review of The Chemistry of Tears

Reader Rating for The Chemistry of Tears
53%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 108 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review

Reader reviews & activity

Matthew Nickel

Matthew Nickel 5 Sep 2013

Added the book to want to read list

×