Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey


I do like books with multiple storylines and setting them in different centuries is appealing. A woman working in a London museum of clocks and other mechanisms learns her long-time lover died suddenly. Catherine must grieve secretly as he was married and had children. Her boss who knows the secret finds a project for her that will isolate her from colleagues as she recovers.

The project comes with volumes of notebooks written 150 years previously that purport to describe how her current project came about. The British man who wrote them, Henry, travels to Germany with plans for a mechanical duck (the Vaucanson Duck you may want to read about). He is willing to do what it takes to have the creature created for the amusement of his tubercular two-year-old son. He is immediately at sea in Karlsruhe and then things take a turn and he is spirited away to Furtwangen and then I'm at sea. I realize now I read much of this book while I was feverish with the flu and I was comfortable reading along.

By today, however, though I am still sick, the fever is gone and the book has made me feel quite queasy. I finished it and find myself uncertain just what it is I've read. It turns out that I am not alone in that situation. I will say the duck turned out to be a swan and there is a mechanical swan in the Bowes Museum in England. 

For a couple of views of this book, here's Tony's take on it and Lisa's review.

Peter Carey, Chemistry of Tears, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012, 229 pages. Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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