Celebrate Book Lovers Day
It is not surprising that I would choose to write about Book Lovers Day, which is celebrated August 9. For me this is not a silly holiday at all, it is a holiday that celebrates the love of reading and I love reading.
Generally my favorite reading material revolves around paranormal romances. All those great love stories about vampires, werewolves, other shape-shifters, witches, dragons, fairies, etc.
While I rarely deviate from my chosen subject, I was coaxed by a friend into reading a novel by Peter Carey called "The Chemistry of Tears."
The overview of this book sounded so intriguing that I thought I would give it a try.
Little did I know that "The Chemistry of Tears" is a book that makes you think, not just here and there, but everywhere, about love, loss, life and what is real.
What Makes a Great Novel
Can't Put it Down is a Start
A great novel has great characters that the reader can identify with. The story has to keep you interested and challenge you along the way.
Sometimes I read books that seem so familiar that I feel like I have read them before. This is often because the author is using a tried and true plot with characters that are familiar to the reader. I am used to these kinds of books, because my paranormal romances tend to portray characters and situations that are similar. What keeps me going in these novels is the action.
Not so with a book that takes on a challenging subject that also contains a mystery. For this very reason "The Chemistry of Tears" is very hard to put down once you have read the first fifty pages. After that you are completely hooked and getting the reader hooked is the beginning of a great novel.
Photo: Crying sculpture from Google images. Click on Image for link.
How It All Begins
Tears From the Very Start
Catherine is a conservator at a museum in England, who specializes in restoring clocks and clock-like mechanisms. The technical term for Catherine's profession is horologist.
Our lovely Catherine has been carrying on a love affair with Matthew, the museum's curator of metals, for thirteen years, ever since Catherine was twenty-nine, practically her whole adult life.
Matthew, of course, is married and has two children and stays married while conducting his affair with Catherine.
The book opens with the death of Matthew, who has passed away from a heart attack on the subway while on his way to work. Now under normal circumstances this would be a heavy blow to Catherine, but it is even more devastating when you realize no one in the office knows about the affair and would not understand her devastation at the loss of a fellow colleague.
Thus Catherine's tears begin on page one and continue in varying degrees through most of the book. She cannot attend the funeral, cannot outwardly grieve and cannot work, not with the curious staff wondering what in the world is wrong with her.
Photo: Creative Commons
Discovering the Past
We learn that there is one museum colleague who knows about Catherine and Matthew's affair, Catherine's boss Eric. It is Eric who sets Catherine on the path to recovery, a path that leads her from abject misery to curiosity, discovery and a great mystery.
Eric has a project for Catherine that will take her out of the museum and into its annex where no one will see her suffering. This is no simple project but one that involves detailed work and an understanding of what lies behind the project.
Eric has purchased an automaton, a nineteenth century precursor to the robot. In this case the automaton is an animal commissioned by the father of a dying child in about 1848.
The project does not assuage Catherine's grief nor does it capture her imagination until she discovers the notebooks written by the father who commissioned the automaton, an Englishman named Henry.
Photo: Image of the inner workings of a 19th century automaton duck. Creative Commons
I thought you might like to read this before you tackle Chemistry of Tears. I must say that I had only a vague idea what an automaton was and kept checking with Google as I was reading. I may have benefited more if I had read this prior to tackling a novel on the subject.
Catherine and Henry
From the time that Catherine discovers Henry's notebooks until the end of the story, Catherine and Henry's stories alternate throughout the book.
Henry's story is even more heartbreaking than Catherine's. Henry has a young son who is dying of consumption. To cheer him up and possibly strengthen his will to live, Henry sets out on a journey to commission a duck automaton that will look and act like a real duck. The trials and tribulations of Henry's story are beyond anything that a less determined father could endure.
Catherine begins to drink heavily in the hopes of masking the pain of her loss, but Henry has her enthralled. It is Henry's journey that assists her in her restoration of the automaton.
It is also Henry's journey that allows Catherine to deal with her pain and come to terms with her loss. By the time we realize this, we have been taken on a long journey, one filled with love, loss, and mystery.
Emotional tears are cleansing tears.
Photo: Vaucanson's Duck, Creative Commons
Will You Read "The Chemistry of Tears" - Or Is It Not Your Cup of Tea
Is This a Book You Might Read
From My Perspective
I have mixed feelings about this book. While it held my interest in so far as I could not put it down, Catherine was difficult to like. Henry, on the other hand, was just doing the best he could to keep his son alive, but was the journey worth it? Would his son still be alive after the length of time Henry was gone? Would it not have been better to spend those precious months in England with his son?
Catherine's plight, on the other hand, is more complicated than it looks on the surface. Why did Matthew keep their affair a secret? Why would he not leave his wife? What did Catherine really know about Matthew other than he was a great lover? Catherine saw Matthew through a haze of emotion. They made love in exotic places, shared a bed in different hotels and enjoyed what was actually a fantasy existence. Catherine and Matthew never experienced the day to day life that couples lead.
Just as the automaton may appear real, so was Catherine's relationship with Matthew, reality wrapped in fantasy.
Photo: Vector Open Stock "Lovers Under the Moon."