Of machines and emotions | Culture | Times Crest
Popular on Times Crest
  • In This Section
  • Entire Website
  • The great Khan of books
    June 29, 2013
    Founded by Balraj Bahri Malhotra in 1953, Bahrisons is a proud sentinel at the gateway of Delhi's Khan Market
  • Spreading the Marathi word
    June 29, 2013
    Ideal Book Store, located just outside the perpetually crowded Dadar railway station is a go-to bookshop for Marathi literature.
  • Want some spine? Drop right in
    June 29, 2013
    There is no method to the madness in the shelves that line Ram Advani's eponymous bookstore.
More in this Section
Leaving tiger watching to raise rice Ecologist Debal Deb, who did his post-doctoral research from IISc in…
The crorepati writer He's the man who gives Big B his lines. RD Tailang, the writer of KBC.
Chennai-Toronto express Review Raja is a Canadian enthusiast whose quirky video reviews of Tamil…
Don't parrot, perform Maestro Buddhadev Dasgupta will hold a masterclass on ragas.
A man's man Shivananda Khan spent his life speaking up for men who have sex with men.
Bhowmick and the first family of Indian football At first glance, it would be the craziest set-up in professional football.
From Times Blogs
The end of Detroit
Jobs in Detroit's car factories are moving to India.
Chidanand Rajghatta
How I love the word ‘dobaara’...
Can ‘bindaas’ or ‘jhakaas’ survive transliteration?
Shobhaa De
Anand marte nahin...
India's first superstar died almost a lonely life.
Robin Roy
The Chemistry of Tears

Of machines and emotions


The Chemistry of Tears By Peter Carey Faber and Faber, 271 pages, Rs 499

The Chemistry of Tears is nowhere near Peter Carey's best. However, this reveals nothing, Carey being a literary artist whose skills, insight and language have won him acclaim worldwide. Surpassing Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang - his two Bookerwinning efforts - cannot be an everyday reality for anybody. And that includes Carey.

The Chemistry of Tears has two voices, the first of which belongs to Catherine Gehrig, an alcoholic, pill-popping, horologist employed with the Swinburne Museum in London. Incidentally, Swinburne Museum is a fictional creation. The second voice is that of Henry Brandling, an affluent 19th century Englishman who gets acquainted to us through the notebooks he has left behind.

An "oddly elegant woman with the tweed hat scrunched up in her hand", Catherine had been involved in a passionate affair with Matthew Tindall, a married colleague, for 13 years. The book begins with Tindall's sudden death. His last email to her reads, 'I kiss your toes, ' which she marks as unread. As emotional turmoil overwhelms Catherine, more so because she cannot express her grief socially, her boss who is aware of the affair endeavours to bail her out. Since Catherine specializes in clocks and automatons, he gives her an assignment whose challenging complexity she cannot resist. Catherine figures out that the mystery package from her boss is an automaton - a duck that simulates real-life qualities - that Brandling, the rich Englishman, had set out to procure in order to cheer up his ailing son more than a century ago.

Carey discusses aspects such as procedure meetings and hierarchies with the ease of somebody who has immersed himself in the quest for understanding the workings of the sort of museum he has written about. Hardly surprising, therefore, is that the book's best moments are those in which Catherine is engrossed in comprehending the intriguing task at hand. But he loses control over the proceedings when the horologist struggles with the memories of her relationship. Her emotional outbursts border on the melodramatic, mainly because of how little we know about her affair. Since Carey deals with the relationship with astonishing indifference, one fails to respect, and feel for, her despair.

Among the two principal characters, Brandling is a lot more likeable. An emotional father who wishes to see his son smile, he goes off to Germany to get the duck from the best creators in the world. He comes across various characters, among them one gawky, huge and potentially dangerous man named Sumper who doesn't seem to be interested in such a trivial project. The interactions between Sumper and Brandling make for engaging reading, although the most charming part is definitely that in which Brandling's actual acquisition is finally reconstructed.

The book has several engaging qualities. The character of Cruikshank, an inventor whom Sumper claims to have assisted, has been inspired by the legendary Charles Babbage. During his journey, Brandling comes across a collector of fairy tales, which is reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm. Nineteenth century Germany is portrayed remarkably, as is London of today.

The protagonists who are separated by more than a century are dealing with a common feeling: that of heartache. Brandling is afraid of losing his son before he gets his father's gift. Catherine, on the other hand, is dealing with the tragedy of her lover's death. That Carey is unable to exploit the possibilities of this non-mechanistic, potentially powerful, situation is his major failure.

The book challenges and enamours with its details. Yet, at one point, Carey writes that humans are also "intricate chemical machines". It is the author's obsession with this perspective which, despite being true, makes one wonder why he had to call his book, The Chemistry of Tears.

Other Times Group news sites
The Times of India | The Economic Times
इकनॉमिक टाइम्स | ઈકોનોમિક ટાઈમ્સ
Mumbai Mirror | Times Now
Indiatimes | नवभारत टाइम्स
महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स
Living and entertainment
Timescity | iDiva | Bollywood | Zoom
| Technoholik | MensXP.com


itimes | Dating & Chat | Email
Hot on the Web
Book print ads | Online shopping | Business solutions | Book domains | Web hosting
Business email | Free SMS | Free email | Website design | CRM | Tenders | Remit
Cheap air tickets | Matrimonial | Ringtones | Astrology | Jobs | Property | Buy car
Online Deals
About us | Advertise with us | Terms of Use and Grievance Redressal Policy | Privacy policy | Feedback
Copyright© 2010 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service