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.
After the sudden death of her married lover, London museum conservator Catherine Gehrig channels her grief into the task of restoring a 19th-century automaton, in Carey's powerful novel on the frailty of the human body and the emotional life we imbue in machines. Catherine, a horologist at the Swinburne Museum, and curator Matthew Tindall carried on a secret affair for 13 years. After Matthew dies of a heart attack, Catherine's boss assigns her a project in the Swinburne Annex, away from the gossip. Numb with heartache, she's uncharacteristically uninterested in opening eight sealed tea chests until the day of her lover's funeral, when she discovers inside the chests 11 notebooks filled by Englishman Henry Brandling in 1854. The narrative then shifts to Henry's point-of-view with his discovery of the inventor Vaucanson's plans for a mechanical duck, just the thing, Henry thinks, to make his young consumptive son, Percy, happy. He travels to Germany in search of a master clockmaker, and Carey (Parrot and Olivier in America) alternates between present-day Catherine's progress with repairing the avian automaton and Henry's notebooks, about which Catherine becomes more obsessed as Henry meets a mysterious and potentially dangerous craftsman who promises to build him his "heart's desire." 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
For all the hype about this book, I am disappointed. The characters are not believable and the intrigue is all in the authors mind.
The Chemistry of Tears
This is a rich, satisfying and ultimately funny book. Highly recommended. The tableau at the end is priceless. In the Library of Congress catalog data the clockwork automaton is misclassified as a robot, so it may be filed under science fiction, but it shouldn't be.
The chemistry of tears
Very disappointing. Kept reading thinking something would make it worth my time. It was not.