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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Book Review: The Chemistry of (My) Tears

Very rare is it for me, a consummate bibliophile, to not finish a book. I began The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey on the recommendation of a conservator friend of mine. It's based on a fictionalized (only just) representation of the National Museums store at Blythe House in Hammersmith where a heart broken horology conservator goes to recover from the death of her lover, the Head Curator of Metals. There she consoles herself unlocking the secret of a nineteenth century automaton complete with flashbacks. Sounds amazing right? A forbidden museum romance (curator and a conservator? scandalous) set in a very familiar location, and somehow mashed up with the movie Hugo. Sadly, amazing it is not.

Aside from the obvious thrills of ridiculous references to museum work like the turnstile entrance to the stores, the chemicals in the lab, even the museum workers dream of actually stealing something from work (in this case, a diary), the book is impossible to read. First of all, I don't know why the author even bothered trying to disguise the fact that this is being written about the V&A. Secondly, why on earth would you have your sexy female protagonist be a horologist? I mean, I'm all for breaking the stereotypes, but it just seems like it's trying to hard. Maybe the author got excited he learned what horology meant.

Museum specific references apart, good god this book is poorly written. The style is frantic and impossible to follow. Maybe it's supposed to be stream of consciousness but it comes across sounding inane and directionless. The characters have no depth whatsoever and are informed mostly by their titles, magnanimous Head Curator or overly serious intern. As if the author maybe passed these people in the hallways but didn't care enough to actually speak with them. Why try and break the mould with an horologist main character in love with a metals curator, but not actually show the variety of people who work in a museum? To be fair, the author is a middle aged American whose experience of museums probably came from a few weeks of research at Blythe, but still.

Maybe this book gets better at the end, I honestly can't tell you. And I truly gave it a shot. Apparently there are some Science Museum references thrown in there relating to Charles Babbage and his differentiation machine. Too bad.

Here's what I propose then. Can some one PLEASE write a proper romance novel based in a museum? Seriously. The skeleton is there. Forbidden romance between the department. Sexy emails accidently saved on the server. A rendezvous in the lab. I bet a ghost couldn't hurt. This is begging to be written, and I think there would be a demand for it. Who's with me?

In fairness here's a review by the NY Times which seems much kinder: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/books/review/the-chemistry-of-tears-by-peter-carey.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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