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Review: Peter Carey’sThe Chemistry of Tears

Untitled 2Haidy Geismar, UCL

[Ed note: This is Material World Blog’s 1000’th post!]

I’ve been thinking about novels that have something profound to contribute to Material Culture Studies having just read Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears which is a remarkable instantiation of the affective entanglement of techniques, materials, and emotion.

A bare overview: the story focuses around Catherine Gehrig, a bereaved horologist, whose secret lover (a colleague at a fictitious London museum) has suddenly died. Her boss, in an attempt to help her suffering, gives her several boxes to work on: the contents of which need to be conserved and put back together. The boxes contain a dismantled automata made in the 19th century in Germany. A number of notebooks accompany the object and stealing them to read at home she enters the world of Henry Brandling, recently bereaved of a young child himself, and desperate to prevent the death of his ailing son.…

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