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The Chemistry of Tears


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About the Author

Peter Carey is the author of eleven novels (including one for children), three volumes of short stories, and two books on travel. Amongst other prizes, Carey has won the Booker Prize twice (for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang), the Commonwealth Writers' Prize twice (for Jack Maggs and True History of the Kelly Gang), and the Miles Franklin Literary Award three times (for Bliss, Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs).


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. Agent: Amada Urban, ICM. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Two-time Booker Prize winner Carey has crafted a novel about craft, the story of a woman who's lost her lover assigned the task of resurrecting an automaton-a simulation of life-from another century. Horologist Catherine Gehrig of London's Swinburne Museum has long conducted a tender affair with the married head curator of metals, and his sudden death has overturned her world. She cannot be seen to mourn, so her boss, who to her surprise has intuited the affair, gives her a job that will separate her from the staff: reassembling a mid-19th-century mechanism. It turns out to be a quite remarkable duck. At first resistant, Catherine is drawn into the task, reading through notebooks left by Henry Brandling of London, whose ailing son was delighted by the duck's design. Thus, in alternate chapters, we see proud, concerned Henry rushing to Germany to get the duck constructed-an act of love that separates him from the very person he wants to please. Verdict Catherine is an entertainingly tart creation, while Henry can be a puzzle, his stubborn ardor somewhat exasperating. Henry's chapters can feel as mechanistic as his duck-surprising from the generally luscious, acutely insightful Carey-but the dedicated prose will still draw in his fans. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/11.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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