The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

It was one of the airport picks of a book. Actually, I do not pick books at airports, because I have an Amazon Kindle. So, it was one of these airport decisions then, to download and read Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears. There was a whole line up of reviews recently in the news and as I remembered the story was set in a clock making museum, I already liked the setting. Hologerie was one of my first jobs many years ago at Bosch. I was sharing the office with one of the last of its kind, who has been in the clock business in South Africa, where he left to as a teenager. In his 60s he returned to Germany and bridged a few years to retirement taking care of our clocks installed at train stations and airports, which were still under the name Telenorma. I was actually in the Security Technology division, but I was told that I might be the only one who can bear sharing the office with him because he was so odd. What I found was that he was a kind, educated man, who had things to tell but was not eager to shout them out loud. He taught me everything he knew about clocks. We were the last ones having certain spare parts for old clock towers. And of course we were loosing money with that line of business, but I gained a lot from "negotiating" with German village priests the price of repairing his church's clock-tower. And last but not least it was smuggling gold in the form of hand made movement parts though Africa - the customs people never guessed that some of these mechanical parts deep built into the movements of these industrial clocks, leaving the country, were made of gold and even containing diamonds. By this the world of clock making became for me a world of absolute precision and great adventure at the same time. This was about 20 years ago.

The Chemistry of Tears is the first book of Peter Carey I read. I guessed that it means that humans are chemical machines, where one process drives the other - like in a clockwork. But then of course also they are not - or at least they are complex enough not just to be a movement. Mostly they don't like the idea of being one anyways. Even I find they are predictable. The plot starts with a fictional Catherine Gehrig an, horologist at the Swinburne museum in London, who comes to the office to find her lover died. It is weaved in with the story of Henry Blanding, a Victorian gentleman, who a century earlier travelled to the Black Forest to have a giant "magical instrument" constructed, which is a clock in the shape of a duck, for the amusement of his dying son. Henry meets the two brothers who became most famous in Germany for their collection of fairy tales (which is a bit strange because I thought they mainly worked in Northern Germany). The two streams of the novel meet when Catherine, who is forced to mourn the loss of her lover in secret, reads the notebooks of Henry from a century before, while taking up the restoration of the duck shaped clock. 

It is an interesting way of discussing death, and the machinery of life - or is it not? Somehow, I did not fully enjoy the language Carey choose and found the book a bit dragging on in the end. But a good airport pick, when you need just something to read, think about and detach you from the reality of delayed flights, noisy neighbors and missed appointments.