Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

"Dead, and no one told me." Catherine Gehrig, horologist extraordinaire at the Swinburne Museum in London, arrives at her post one morning only to find that her lover of 13 years, married Matthew Tindall, Head Curator of Metals, has died. Her grief is illicit; their relationship had been a secret since it began. Eric Croft, or "Crafty Crofty," the head of her department, makes it clear that he knew all along about her affair with Matthew, and, out of kindness or simply wanting to keep the scandal under wraps, swiftly exiles Catherine to an out-of-the-way annexe and gives her 18 tea chests full of 19th-century clock parts that make up an automaton to assemble. Catherine is attempting to put the pieces back together, both in the studio and in her heart, when she finds a set of journals belonging to the original owner of the automaton, Henry Brandling, in one of the tea chests. She finds a fellow broken-heart in Henry, who has lost one child to illness, his wife to grief, and may lose his remaining son if he can't find a way to cure what ails him. Catherine follows Henry to the Black Forest in Germany, where he goes to commission an automaton duck (based on Vaucanson's 1739 version) in hopes of curing and pleasing his ill son. Carey is a master of depicting specialized and bizarre worlds, and TCOT brings to life not only the curator's studio with all its inherent parts, but small-town Germany as well. My only complaint is that it ended too soon. Click here for a full review. Grade 11+