Peter Carey’s work is, as the travel industry is fond of saying of his native Australia, full of contrasts. His early writing was disjointed and elliptical, nodding towards ‘head’ fiction or even science fiction, at times a little like his English contemporary Ian McEwan during his ‘Gollum’ years. Then came success, and, hot on its heels, middle age; just as McEwan’s writing became somehow sleeker, so Carey seemed to get his feet under the table of an upper-middlebrow readership. He was credited with Anglicising the genre of magic realism (though the laurels for that should probably go to Angela Carter), and – more than once, most recently in True History of the Kelly Gang – with reinventing the historical novel.
I’m not sure if The Chemistry of Tears constitutes yet another act of reinvention, though it is full of an anguished strangeness. It brusquely introduces us to Catherine, a conservator at a fictitious museum of objets d’art, reeling from the death of her married lover, who had been a colleague.