Sometimes, books just don’t deliver. You were caught by the author, the title, or perhaps the cover. But 40 pages in, you acknowledge the awkward truth – you and this book will not have an enduring relationship. So you end it precipitously, and without regret.
Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears earns the dubious distinction of being the first book that I forsook in 2016. I made it a through a couple of chapters then realised, actually, I didn’t care what happened to anyone in the book. A fair enough reason to quit, I think.
One of the central characters is Catherine, who we meet at the moment she finds out that her (married) lover of 13 years has died. I gather that we are supposed to journey with her as she works through her grief. But I found her sorrow without depth, and so, could muster up very little empathy. The other main character is a nineteenth-century chap who embarks on a European voyage to find a toy that might help his sickly son. I didn’t understand his motivations, and so couldn’t invest in his journey.
As dual winner of the Booker prize, and many others, Peter Carey has been declared a great novelist. Indeed, there are some positive reviews of this book. But there are also some scathing ones too. I’m afraid that as much as I liked Oscar and Lucinda, The Chemistry of Tears gets the big Thumbs Down.