Book Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This charming, funny novel was exactly what I needed after a couple of weeks filled with horror, wartime secrets, and violent crime. And you should hear about the books I’ve read! (Kidding, kidding…)
The Rosie Project is a first novel by Australian writer Graeme Simsion, which he originally wrote as a screenplay and then adapted into a novel. And now apparently a movie is expected as well! I can absolutely see this sweet, romantic story working fabulously on the big screen.
The Rosie Project is narrated in the first person by Don Tillman, a professor of genetics who is more than a bit lacking in the social graces department. As it quickly becomes clear, Don most likely falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, although a possible diagnosis has never occurred to him, despite being an incredibly intelligent scientist whose best (and only) friends are psychologists and despite being a guest lecturer on the subject of Asperger’s syndrome. Don’s days are dictated by his schedule, with every moment accounted for and planned for maximum efficiency. He has a seven-day food schedule (Tuesdays are for lobster), so he never has to waste precious brain resources deciding what to eat. His life is fixed and defined — but he’s 39 years old and feeling the need for a life partner.
To solve his problem, Don devises The Wife Project, a 16-page questionnaire scientifically designed to select only the most compatible women for Don to meet and potentially marry. But when Rosie wanders into his office, she throws Don’s careful plans into a tizzy. She’s clearly unsuitable mate material — but why does he enjoy her company quite so much?
The writing zips along quickly, as we hear — from Don’s perspective — all about his adventures in dating and his everyday challenges in dealing with other humans. The Jacket Incident is but one example, featuring a fancy restaurant, an ambiguously worded dress code, and Don’s aikido skills. And then there’s his approach to a medical student who touts “creation theory” as a viable alternative to “evolution theory”. Let’s just say there’s a dead fish involved and leave it at that.
Don has an eidectic memory, which he uses to his advantage not just in academics, but also in a delightful scene in which he becomes a cocktail expert. He also successfully memorizes an entire manual full of sex positions, but doesn’t quite get why it’s not so appealing to the ladies to show them a book and basically instruct them to pick a page. (Note: he strikes out.)
Quirky and funny, the dialogue really enhances the narration:
“If I find a partner, which seems increasingly unlikely, I wouldn’t want a sexual relationship with anyone else. But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” said Rosie, for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact. “Ah… the testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”
All in all, I found The Rosie Project sweet, funny, and romantic, if a tad implausible in parts. I had a hard time believing that Don would be capable of making some of the substantial changes in his own behavior that he enacts by the end, especially considering how quickly he brings about these changes. Still, this book works because it’s a rom-com at heart, and what’s a rom-com without a happy ending? It’s quite clear all along that the boy will get the girl; the fun part is in seeing how it all works out.
A final thought: As someone who binge-watched five seasons of The Big Bang Theory last year, I couldn’t help but hear Sheldon Cooper as the voice of Don Tillman. To me, Don IS Sheldon, although perhaps a bit more flexible and only a drop less socially awkward. If this wasn’t the portrayal that the author was going for, well, what can I say? I think the comparisons are unavoidable. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment a bit, but it certainly made the character instantly identifiable to me and maybe even a little predictable at times.
That said, I do recommend The Rosie Project most enthusiastically. It’s ultimately a happy book, and I had a great time reading it. The characters are warm and interesting and full of life, the scenario is creative and entertaining, and the book is not without emotional weight and depth. If you’re looking for a fun, engaging read that just may move you as well, check out The Rosie Project.
Title: The Rosie Project
Author: Graeme Simsion
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Adult fiction