A novel about Vivian, a young Irish girl sent by rail from a New York City tenement to Minnesota in the early 1900s. She was one of thousands of abandoned children sent to live with rural families for a better life. But not all ended up in loving homes.
Australian author Peter Carey is one of only two novelists to win the prestigious Booker Prize twice. He is nothing if not prolific. Over the course of his 40-year career he has written 12 novels, a collection of short stories, numerous essays, a travelogue and two screenplays. Every new book is eagerly awaited by his multitude of fans around the world, who are drawn by his quirky characters and unlikely pairings. His latest book, “The Chemistry of Tears,” is no exception–it’s a romance of the mind across time and technology.
- Peter Carey author and two-time winner of the Man Booker award
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “The Chemistry of Tears” by Peter Carey. Copyright 2012 by Peter Carey. Reprinted here by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved.
View an example of a working automaton.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Australian author Peter Carey has lived in New York for the past 20 years, but his stories frequently reach back into the Commonwealth collective past bringing together unlikely couples and irrepressibly invented plotlines. His latest book, "The Chemistry of Tears" is no exception.
MS. DIANE REHMPeter Carey joins me in the studio. You are welcome to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, it's good to have you here.
MR. PETER CAREYGood morning, it's nice to be here.
REHMThank you. You know, I'd like you, if you would, to start this program by reading from the book because those first few pages tell us so much.
CAREYOkay, everyone's going to have to imagine that I'm a woman and that I'm English, which I'm not either of those things. She begins, "Dead and no one told me. I walk past his office and his assistant was bawling. What is it Felicia? I said. Oh, haven't you heard, Mr. Tindall's dead. What I heard was, Mr. Tindall hurt his head. I thought, for God sake, pull yourself together. Where is he Felicia? And that was a reckless thing to ask because Matthew Tindall and I had been lovers for 13 years and he was my secret and I was his.
CAREYIn real life, I always avoided his assistant. Now her lipstick was smeared and her mouth folded like an ugly sock. Where is he? She sobbed, what an awful, awful question. Not understanding what was happening, I asked again. Catherine, he is dead and thus set herself off into a second fit of bawling.
CAREYI marched into Matthew's office as if to prove her wrong. This was not the sort of thing one did. My secret darling was a big deal, the head curator of metals. There was a photo of his two sons on the desk. His silly, soft tweed hat was lying on the shelf. I snatched it. I don't know why. And of course she saw me steal it, but I no longer cared. I fled down the Philips stairs on to the main floor and on that April afternoon in the Georgian halls of the Swinburne Museum, among the 1,000 daily visitors, the 80 employees, there was not one single soul who had any idea of what had just happened.
CAREYEverything looked the same as usual. It was impossible that Matthew was not there waiting to surprise me. He was very distinctive, my lovely. There was a vertical frown mark just to the left of his big, high nose. His hair was thick. His mouth was large, soft and always tender. Of course, he was married, of course, of course. He was 40 when I first noticed him and it was seven years before we became lovers. I was by then just under 30 and still something of a freak, that is, the first female horologist the museum had ever seen."
REHMPeter Carey was reading for me opening pages of his new novel, "The Chemistry of Tears." Now, please tell me, what is a horologist?
CAREYWhat is a horologist?
CAREYWell, I must confess I didn't know what a horologist was before I started work on the book. Basically, she's somebody who typically would look after antique timepieces, clocks, but also in a museum like this, there are many other things that are made from clockwork, you know, automatons, for instance, and most particularly in this book, is going have a lot to do with that.
CAREYShe hates automatons. They creep her out completely. You know, that sort of notion of a something that seems like it's alive and makes all the signs of being alive, but we know is not alive and I think we always find those things a little upsetting.
REHMAnd for our listeners, there's a real treat on our website for those who are curious to see what an 18th century automaton looks like. Go to our website, drshow.org You can watch a video of John-Joseph Merlin's silver swan on our website. That swan was built in 1776. It's now housed in a museum in England and it still works.
CAREYWell, the amazing thing was, you know, I didn't know anything about the swan when I began this.
CAREYBut I was talking, I knew I had to do a lot of work about museums and I decided it would be a London museum and I had a lot of wonderful conversations with a woman who is a conservator at the Victoria and Albert in London. And she was creeped out. When she worked, she had to work more on the fabric side of automatons, but she had said how awful the fabric gets with age.
CAREYAnyway, so I was asking her about a duck, de Vaucanson's duck, which was made earlier than the swan and which was very famous. And it was famous in all sorts of ways, but it ate grain and appeared to defecate and so it was meant to be like a real imitation of life. Well, it was a fraud in fact, a very clever fraud. But I was looking for this. That seemed to have disappeared from the earth. But she said, you know, the Bowes Museum in Durham has a silver swan and maybe that would be useful.
CAREYAnd I said, oh, that's great. Where can I see a photograph? And she said what you just said to the listeners. She said, you don't have to do that, just go to Google and type in silver swan and there it is, a beautiful, beautiful creature it was.
CAREYOh, sinuous and glistening, so that's part of it. It's very beautiful to look at. But the reason for me as a novelist -- the people at the Bowes Museum had just recently spent a long time pulling it all apart and cleaning it and fixing it all up. And there was online, available just to me, even without talking to them, a day-by-day account of all of these things so it's not -- I'm a mechanical idiot really, in fact.
CAREYBut it's important for me to know what my characters are going to have to deal with...
REHMOf course, of course.
CAREY...so that was a gift.
REHMAnd what seems to begin as a romance, someone has died. Her lover had died and one sort of anticipates -- well, we'll explore this love affair, turns into the exploration going back to this kind of mechanical creature.
CAREYYes, and about all the feelings that the two. There are two different people, you know, there's Catherine, she's the one who is putting it together, which is an odd thing for her to be doing given that she's just lost her lover. And she's dealing with this creature which really raises all these questions about life and death and who we are. And a 100 or so years before, there's somebody else who is commissioning, a posh English gentleman, having this creature made for his ailing son.
CAREYAnd there's a lot of emotion on his side of it, a lot of sadness, a lot of grief, a lot of optimism in a weird way so even though there's this mechanical thing in the middle that sort of joins them, the mechanical thing becomes imbued with all of their feelings and hopes and fears and so on.
REHMAnd of course, it is her own boss who decides...
REHM...that she must have something to lift her from her grief unbeknownst to her, he, her boss, has known of this affair.
CAREYShe doesn't know that anybody knows and, of course, the first thing that occurs to her when she finds herself in this awful situation, well, first just thunderstruck and grieving, is that she can't even go to the funeral because she would come unglued and all around will be. And she'll be expected to go, but she can't go. The wife who is sort of, not been unhappy about this particular arrangement, will be there being the grieving widow and all the friends will be there, but she can't even go there.
CAREYAnd then, her boss who is nicknamed crafty Crofty has this gift to give her. I mean, I think grief in her case is sometimes, I would say, sort of a license to misbehave almost. I mean, she does act out a lot and some people find that a little bit too much. I love her acting out, but she gets cross about things. And you know, and so she thinks, what sort of gift is this to give a woman who has just lost her lover? You want me to spend the next few months simulating life?
CAREYBut she does do it. She doesn’t want to do it. In fact, she sort of puts it off. She opens these crates and there she finds these old exercise books in which Henry Brandling has written an account of his journey to Germany to have this automaton made And she sort of looks at it and sort of looking at his quite strange handwriting decides that he's a man and that he's been sort of driven mad. And she feels huge affection for him straightaway and so there's a lot of her transference of her emotions on to Henry Brandling happens at the beginning.
REHMPeter Carey, his new novel is titled "The Chemistry of Tears." He is the two-time winner of the Man Booker prize, the most prestigious prize offered in Britain. Do join us, 800-433-8850. I'm sure most of you right now are looking at the website, at this glorious swan. Its graceful movements, its shimmering color and its movements were what shocked me. It is so real in the craning of its neck. It's just absolutely fantastic. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more about "The Chemistry of Tears," what that title is all about and take your calls as well. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Peter Carey is with me. He's two-time winner of the prestigious Booker Prize. His newest novel is titled "The Chemistry of Tears." You can call us, email us, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Peter Carey, "The Chemistry of Tears," an interesting title.
CAREYWell, a discovered title and discovered part of the book as I wrote it because I started to, you know, think that there's poor Catherine grieving. She's putting together this automaton, which pretends to be live but isn't. Naturally in her situation that leads to questions about what life is and so on. Catherine herself and her lover both sort of rather rationalists, humanists with not a lot of time for the soul or God, but full of great love and enthusiasm for the mysteries of the world and of the body.
CAREYAnd so for her, you know, the body would be sort of just almost an unknown universe and its workings and so on. So, for her, it's not depressing that there's no soul or no God. There's another whole argument in the book, which takes the exact opposite point of view. But for Catherine, it's like that, what is the body and what is -- and so it's always sort of rather miraculous and extraordinary to find out what things do in the body.
CAREYAnd I had this sort of feeling, you know, that tears -- because this book's very -- it's more about feelings than anything I've ever written. But also I think about her idea. So I did a Google search, I must confess, and what I typed in was sort of a hunch that there was more to tears simply than lubricating the eye.
CAREYYes, but there are...
REHMCertainly I've tasted salt.
CAREYAbsolutely it is salt. But in fact, I'll definitely get one on the mail. But anyway, I Googled the chemistry of tears and I found out there were three chemicals, three different things. One of them is rather like an anesthetic, analgesic, sorry. So another one of them gives you a feeling gives us a feeling rather as if we just had sex. And the third one, I'm sorry I forgot and I just tried to look at the book. It slipped my mind.
CAREYSo for me, this is the huge wonder of us and the how our bodies work and how we feel. I mean, how could all of the things, the mystery of the things we feel. And that seem to represent in the book what is the sort of, if you like, the sort of the rational sort of scientific approach to life and then the business of tears, of pain and feeling and that whole world. So...
REHMBut the title had to have come later or...
CAREYYou're quite right. Yes, quite late. And even very, very late, yeah. I forgot. I had lots of titles. But, yes, it was -- how did you know it was late?
REHMI don't know. It just struck me that this -- considering the subject matter would have had to have come after you had thought through, developed this grief into something new.
CAREYYeah. Well, that's right. That is how it happened.
REHMThe book started really with your interest in automatons.
REHMYour interest in this gawk and went from there.
CAREYYes. I think one of the lovely things about writing a novel, you know, I always thought of sort of an idea. You know?
CAREYAnd so I'm the idea and I'm following the consequences of the idea.
REHMAnd what was the idea?
CAREYWell, the book sort of will feel rather primitive in a sense. But I was very, you know, my parents had a car business in a little town in Australia. And my father had sold T-model Fords to farmers. And his father had sold cars. So the whole business of the internal combustion engine and the sort of wonder of the invention of modern travel and things were very deep in our family.
CAREYAnd when I arrive, I'd go and see my father. I'd fly down from Sydney and he'd say, how long did it take? And I'd say, well, about an hour, dad. He's like, amazing, amazing. So, we had this sort of sense of it. And then I thought in more recent years how this thing we loved so much is really threatening our life on the planet, and I was looking at global warming and you're looking at the color of the air above our cities.
CAREYIt's hard enough to think, among other things, about the internal combustion engine. And I started to think when I'm fiddling around, attempting to have an idea for a book. You know, if you imagine, this is a big range sort of idea. If you imagine some sort of rather hostile space alien who wanted to, you know, destroy the inhabitants of the earth, all you really have to do is sort of come down, give them the plan for the internal combustion and come back 200 years later and your work's done.
CAREYSo, that's sort of where I started. And -- but I wanted an engine, I wanted something that really represented the bright inventiveness of this, you know, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
REHMBut you note, this does get to the creative process and how a writer like yourself either follows or creates the way the mind goes forward.
REHMSo is it that you are allowing your mind free range or that you are taking an idea and saying, okay, now where do I go from here?
CAREYI think you always have to be -- have to permit yourself to let your mind -- to not be afraid of where your, you know, your ideas are taking you. But at the same time, there's a very rational sort of process that's at work to make the discovery. So I suppose you would say that I'm sort of follow simple and sort of a form of abstract logic, where you say, if that is, therefore it follows that. And so, if I decide that I'm going to have an automaton, which is one of the characters who's going to see as sort of a Trojan horse for the internal combustion engine.
CAREYShe's not the most stable character in the book, but she does carry an important idea. Then one insists how will that happen? Who would do that? You need the person in the museum. You need the person commissioning him. And things happen that appear to me to be sort of lucky or fortuitous, where I'd make decisions that have enormous consequences that I haven't understood.
CAREYBut, you know, the great thing that was like that is I heard a story of a woman who worked in an office and I was having a love affair and that he died and how horrible it was for her. And there was...
REHMYou heard that story.
CAREYI heard that story. And that the business of going in to delete all the emails and all of the sort of -- and no one, one person. So I took that for Catherine. Now, I really didn't think that when I was doing it that I was opening a big door for myself because, on the one hand I had the business about life and death, which the automaton raises, and then she was dealing with it. So, that's either my mind working, you know, very cleverly without me knowing or damn lucky or something like that.
CAREYAnd in that decision, what that then allows me to do to enter the book and to discover things I didn't know I was going to write about. And really the book is more about, about the grief and love and loss and all of those things than anything else.
REHMTell me about Henry Bradling and the dark and his son.
CAREYWell, I was smart. You ask me about Henry and you saw me smile. I feel ridiculously fond of him, I suppose. He's rich, in the sense that he's a northern industrialist, wealthy, sort of posh. He's become of that class anyway, and quite soft-hearted and rather not the brightest penny, I suppose. Not the brightest person you ever met, but with a lovely sense of optimism and hope about him. So he's in a relationship. They've already lost a daughter to consumption.
REHMWe've now gone back in time.
CAREYI'm sorry, I'm sorry. Thank you for that. Yes. So this is mid-19th century. And they have another son who also is showing signs of having consumption. His wife has been -- this is all taught quite briefly, but we can see that the wife is sort of frightened to love her son. She's frightened to love him because he's going to die and she can't bear it. And he, being the person, as she says who's always the glass half full person, even when the glass is broken on the floor, he's still a glass half full person.
CAREYAnd he's willing the child to be alive. And he's driving her crazy. The marriage is effectively sort of over. He's really been kicked out of the house. The story that he tells and the device that she used to kick him out, he said he's going to make this, commission this duck for his little boy who loved the plans for it. And his wife really uses that to say, well, you promised him you're going to make the duck made.
CAREYAnd he said, really? And she said, yes, of course you did. And that would mean I'd have to go to Germany. And she says, well, you would know how to do it, of course. So, really, at the beginning even though he's sort of talking about sort of making this thing to heal his son, it's much more complicated. So he's carrying a lot of pain, but he clearly loves his child and he clearly has a magical belief that if he can only do this thing, his son will live.
REHMAnd the drawings for this duck are also at our website because they're fascinating.
CAREYYeah, they are, aren't they?
REHMThey are absolutely fascinating. And did you find those drawings or did you create them?
CAREYOh, no, I found them. And I love them. I mean, I was looking for a machine of some sort. And it's such a funny thing. You see the mechanical duck in cross-section.
CAREYAnd it's a sort of a comical idea, in a way. And I like the weirdness of it. And so I thought, okay, there's a machine. But of course as you just said, as I get later into the book, I finally saw the swan. So I start with a duck, which I'm not prepared to abandon because I love it so much. And then I've got all the information of the swan. Now, that's in this gap something that I enjoy in writing happens in that I start out with a duck, it's got to be a swan.
CAREYSo in the gap between, I think, okay, there is -- he's gone looking for the duck and there is some reason why it ends up being a swan. And I thought, I know there is some very willful person, the clock maker, the person who constructs this, is going to do exactly what he wants to do. And he's going to be like one of those artists who won't listen to their patrons and think patrons shouldn't have any authority at all.
CAREYJust give me the money and so on. So, in this he's created -- it's a seed anyway of the character, you know, (word?) who is a sort of megalomaniacal grandiose clock maker with sort of a certain mystical anglophile clock maker with a certain mystical turn or mind. So, and that comes in that little gap between the swan and the duck.
REHMPeter Carey, his new novel is titled, "The Chemistry of Tears," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So here we are in the midst of this story of love, loss, resurrecting the past and what do you, Peter Carey, do? You introduce the BP oil spill.
CAREYBP actually did that.
REHMWould you tell me why?
CAREYYes. One of the characters, Catherine's assistant at the museum, is like many, many young people today, very, very concerned about the future of our planet. And...
REHMAs are you.
CAREYAnd as am I. I was sort of writing this already and then this BP oil spill occurred. And I was, like, horrified and I couldn't bear it. And there was a webcam, you might be aware. They had a webcam down the bottom of the sea and you could log onto that. I think it was PBS webcam. And you could watch all the oil continually spinning out in this inane little mechanism. Some yellow lid flipping up and down.
CAREYAnd you can see it change color when the dispersant was added. And so, I couldn't stop watching it. I was horrified. As if we'd punctured the earth and it was bleeding to death and we would never ever be able to staunch, heal the wound. So, that suited my book. I would rather it hadn't happen. But it hadn't have been that, it would have been something else. So...
REHMAll right. And I want to also ask you about why this subject of global warming has moved you so to introduce it not only in this novel but to think about it as much as you are doing?
CAREYWell, I have two sons.
CAREYOne is 21 and the other is 25. They think about it all the time. It's very difficult for them to imagine any solution to this problem. We seem to be unable to act. It would be my youngest son's position that we will only act when the system is so over-stressed that it's gone into a complete crisis and we will realize when we're in a sort of -- we can't act now. No one can act. We can have committees. And we can do anything.
CAREYWe are unable to do anything. So his thing is, you've got a system. We're over-stressing it already. We're acting as if the planet is one and a half times the size it is. Something's going to break. When it breaks properly and totally, we'll be in crisis and we will then have a chance to act. Alas, rather late having lost of species and a lot of things anyway as if war has been declared.
CAREYAnd when war is declared -- I was thinking, the Second World War particularly, all the things that were not possible yesterday are suddenly possible today. You'd change everything about your systems of manufacture and what the country gives it efforts to but only does it of a crisis. So, I talk to my kids a lot about all this. And I don't see how one cannot think about it.
REHMAnd of course you're living in New York, where the automobile is the measure of transportation. Streets, whenever I have been there, are just bumper to bumper despite a really fine public transportation system. It's as though there's no way around it.
CAREYYes. Yet I want to perverse. I'd argue by saying that New York at least is a -- for many of us who live there, it's a walking city. One of the few cities - and it's got a great public transport. The streets are full of cars. But I -- what I'm always thinking is this great ribbons of tire and (word?) across the country and tie it together, which are filled with cars all day long and night.
REHMPeter Carey, his new novel is titled "The Chemistry of Tears." We'll hear about some of his other works when we come back.
REHMAnd for those of you who may have just joined us I'm talking with author Peter Carey about his new book. It's titled, fascinatingly, "The Chemistry of Tears." Peter Carey has won the Booker Prize twice being one of only two authors who succeeded in doing that. You were, for a long time, in the UK working in advertising. Is that correct?
CAREYAbsolutely. Oh, well, it seemed a long time at the time.
REHMIt was. How long did you work in advertising?
CAREYAll together in Australia and the UK, well, the last time I worked full time in advertising was 1976 and I began, I suppose in 1962.
REHMAnd around that time you wrote "Bliss," your first novel to be published. It was later made into a film. Let's hear a clip from it.
REHMPeter Carey explain what's happening there. Poor Harry. He's in this psychiatric hospital. His family has bribed corrupt doctors to certify him.
CAREYWell, I was just listening to that thing, but it was such a long time ago. I'd forgotten the scene completely. And to be really embarrassingly frank I cannot quite remember the motivation of Alex Duvall who's the person who's the other Harry Joy and why he's in the hospital. It's all gone. I wrote it in 1979 and I haven't read it since. How embarrassing.
CAREYIt's like forgetting your PIN number.
REHMIt's really, really quirky.
REHMAnd you intended it to be quirky.
CAREYOh, yes, yes.
REHMHow much of that do you think was based on your own experience in advertising?
CAREYOh, nothing very -- well, I'd say two contradictory things. You know, one is that I was following the idea and it's -- you know, and my idea was that there was this very -- it's also very environmental, sort of, model thinking about, but there's this character, Harry Joy, who's -- everybody likes. And is charming and tells stories. Who thinks the world is just perfect just the way it is.
CAREYHas a heart attack, has a very -- has an out of the body experience where he thinks he's died and, you know, and seen heaven and hell. Comes back and is convinced that he's now in hell. So everything that looked perfect to him before now he's questioning in a way that I would question something. And so he's seeing poverty. He's seeing pollution. He's seeing all this -- so his conclusion is that he's in hell.
CAREYSo from that I decided to make him an advertising man in a provincial town because I thought that, you know, firstly I knew quite a lot about that. And secondly like -- well as two -- there are hippies and advertising people in the book. And there are two -- if you want to look at two groups of people who are satirized continually and all written about in a rather simplistic way and hardly ever in a, sort of, a really realistic sort of way. So I thought that was an interesting thing to try and do.
REHMWhat about "Mad Men?"
CAREYWell, you see, I don't know how to say this properly, but, you know, compared with Sydney and Melbourne in those years those guys in "Mad Men" are so straight. I can't tell you. They -- it was a whole different -- it was a whole different thing out there on the other side of the world, I can tell you. So "Mad Men" doesn't have very much of my experience at all.
REHMNow, tell me how much you remember of "Oscar and Lucinda," which was made into a gorgeous film starring Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes.
CAREYYes, well, quite -- I can do better on the memory test.
REHMYou really can.
CAREYI mean we don't need to be anxious for me on...
REHMAnd, of course, they play a pair of gamblers who fall in love. They wager everything on a plan to transport a glass church downriver to the outback. And here's a clip from the film where they hatch the idea for their bet.
REHMThe imagery of a glass church sailing down a river where did that idea come from?
CAREYWell, you know, that's where I started.
REHMThat's where you started.
CAREYAnd the whole book, in a way, is a journey towards that -- to find out what the road is to that ending. But it began because I was living in Bellingen in this beautiful, beautiful sub tropical part of Australia. And I used to come to the valley and there was a lovely little clapboard church, very simple, by the river. And I was brought up as a Christian and was, you know, as a young man quite religious. And then was not religious. But still I had enormous affection for the little church.
CAREYAnd when I discovered that the bishop of Grafton was going to remove the church because they weren't getting enough money in the plate I was really upset. I was upset because I thought well, it looked so nice in the landscape. And then I thought why would you be upset, Peter. You know, what is it that's going on here?
REHMYou really do question yourself constantly.
CAREYYes, and I knew that when they took the church away, I knew what would grow there which would be thistles because in disturbed -- in that part of the world, that's what happens. And I thought how symbolically appropriate it was of contemporary Australian culture. There was nothing to replace that. And then I thought that the church had arrived in that landscape as a box full of Christian stories and I basically -- sailing through a landscape of indigenous stories -- Aboriginal stories -- and it destroyed them. And now we were going to take the Christian stories away because we had no use for them.
CAREYAnd so I imagined the box of Christian stories floating through the landscape. So I had to put it on a river. And then I thought well who would do such a silly thing. And I thought well maybe it's been for a bit and I remembered what Pascal had written about belief in God. That if you -- it wasn't a bad bit to take because if there was a god you got all of eternity and if there isn't a god, well, you had a good life anyway. So I thought that's an interesting thing to deal with faith and belief. And then I thought maybe there's a prefabricated, sort of, building method of something like that.
CAREYAnd I talked to my friend the architect and I said didn't the Victorians have this, you know, cast iron that they -- and he said well, only for glass houses, why? And I said -- told him. And he said well, why don't you have a glass church?
CAREYAnd I went there I was. It was fantastic. Everything about it was symbolically perfect, absolutely insane.
REHMLet's take a call from Gabriel who's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning to you.
GABRIELHi, I had a question about whether you had read other stories about automata (sp?) or similar, sort of, stories about automata before you started writing this or while you were writing it? And if it influenced how you thought about it.
CAREYNo, actually, you know, I remember my wife telling me about a museum of automata and how interesting she'd found it to go there. And she talked about it and I said I wouldn't want to go there. This is a long time ago, but I wouldn't want to go there. They're creepy. I don't like them. So I haven't really -- I know they're -- they sort of exist -- famous stories about automata, but I don't recall having read any of them.
REHMAll right, Gabriel, thanks for calling. Let's go to Terry, who's in Arlington, Va. Good morning, you're on the air.
TERRYGood morning, Peter and Diane, first-time caller, not first-time listener. Actually, Gabriel prefaced my question so I may reframe it. I'm wondering if you were at all familiar with the work of E. T. A. Hoffmann who spent a great deal of his creative energy being creeped out by automatons. Of course, his story about Olympia became one of the segments of the opera "Tales of Hoffmann."
TERRY"The Castle of Drosselmeyer" expressed his horror at the idea that human life being mechanized in the nutcracker story -- the children interestingly turn away from the mechanized castle and start making up stories about the simple nutcracker. I'm just wondering if you -- I know you just said that you didn't really draw on that -- on the stories about automatons, but I just thought you might have seen some sympathy with the work of Hoffmann.
CAREYWell, I'm sorry. I'm a failure. I didn't -- I haven't...
CAREYAnd really it's the -- I mean, I know that "The Tales of Hoffmann, yeah, but as a title, but no, no and no. I apologize.
REHMBut a lot of your novels are historical and one would wonder what draws you about history to write your novels?
CAREYWell, I only ever write about the past because of the present. And I happen, I suppose, to have written -- I mean, "Oscar and Lucinda" was the first time I read about the past. And I was terrified of it. Absolutely terrified of the things I would have to know about -- it was so beyond my experience. Not in the least being an academic drop out who would have to write about Oxford University. I was rather intimidated by that, for instance.
CAREYThere was no getting away from the fact he would have to go to Oxford. So I think really we are living in the 19th Century. Or rather we're living with the consequences of the 19th Century. And you cannot look out the window and look at the color of the sky and not realize that we're living with the consequences of the industrial revolution. But our notions of growth have become very -- have become totally bifurcated.
CAREYYou know, on the one hand we're still living with a 19th Century notion of economic growth as being a good thing. So the news report with the last quarter figures were going -- we're experiencing a growth of only three percent or whatever it is. And then on the other hand we know that we also know in another program we will know that growth is what is destroying us.
CAREYAnd the modern -- the modern notion here that we're lacking as if the planet's one and a half times its real size and capabilities is we know in the 21st Century but we're still having these 19th Century news reports about growth. So I think anytime I've written about the past it's been because of concerns about the present.
REHMPeter Carey, "The Chemistry of Tears" is his latest novel. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Some reviewers have called this your global warming novel.
CAREYWell, I'm pleased they noticed. Yes, and but I'll be -- I was thinking -- going back to my first novel, "Bliss." It's funny when one -- I noticed listening to the things that you played -- oh, everyone in my books is mad and so on. But also that "Bliss" was really a book that was about the environment. I'd read a book which -- a wonderful book. I've forgotten the author called "The Politics of Cancer." And something that we now take for granted. We know that, you know, occupational cancer exists. We know that, you know, you can map the incidence of cancer.
CAREYWhen I wrote this in "Bliss," having cribbed it all from this wonderful book, everybody thought it was some sort of mad hippie idea. I had cancer maps in my book. So I was, at that stage, you know, writing about the environment, you know, the effects of industrialization on the planet. And I hadn't really thought about that until just now -- just being reminded about "Bliss," which I'd, sort of, forgotten about.
REHMYou know, it's interesting that there are those who take an issue like global warming and do nothing but speak about that issue. You have taken your ability as a novelist, speaking about writing and speaking about creativity and speaking about the really production of a work of fiction and yet you're very much focused on global warming.
CAREYWell, I suppose if you said could I imagine what the -- would the world be better in five years I would say, no. I can't imagine it being a bit better in 20 years.
REHMYou don't think we can do anything to...
CAREYI think we will have to try, but we will not do it until we're in total crisis.
REHMWhat kind of crisis?
CAREYOh, well, let's say, I don't know, that we didn't -- let's say that the weather in the United States suddenly became that we had a continual rain of terrible -- terrible hurricanes that destroyed cities, for instance. That New York was hit by hurricanes twice in a row. Say that we could no longer produce the electricity that we require. You know, in other words things that would make the society break down and cause a serious pain might make us pay attention to the fact that we might have to do something much more strenuous than have another committee.
REHMShort of that you're not very optimistic.
CAREYNo, but you see I'm a pessimist historically, but I'm a very optimistic sort of person. And I think one of the things in terms of my book is it's full of humor and light in other ways. So...
REHMIndeed. Peter Carey, two-time winner of the Booker Prize. His new novel, "The Chemistry of Tears." It's wonderful to talk with you. Thank you.
CAREYWell, thank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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