[Originally posted on June 16, 2014 here]
The Rosie Project: A Novel
by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a genetics professor at an esteemed university in Melbourne, Australia. He’s rigid and deadpan, lacks social finesse, and his life is ruled by a whiteboard hung in his orderly apartment. At thirty-nine years old, Don has decided that it makes sense to acquire a matrimonial partner, and perhaps reproduce. And so he embarks on The Wife Project, a process involving a detailed, multi-page questionnaire presented to potential mates which will screen out all unsuitable applicants: smokers, vegans, jewelry wearers, mathematical illiterates, and the list goes on. And on.
Enter Rosie: twenty-nine, disorganized, impulsive, sometime smoker, and bartender. Rosie shows up in Don’s office one day, and believing her to be a Wife Project applicant, he rules her out immediately as completely and totally unsuitable. However, her quest to find out who her biological father is intrigues Don, and together Don and Rosie embark on The Father Project. Don’s ordered life is turned upside down by Rosie, and, well . . . it’s not hard to see where this is going. Eventually, a new project emerges: The Rosie Project, as Don realizes that he’s in love with Rosie and tries to win her over by attempting to break out of the rigid mold he’s encased himself in.
The story includes a lively supporting cast, including Gene and Claudia, husband and wife psychologists who have an open marriage, who are Don’s only two friends. Gene is on his own quest: to have sex with a woman from as many countries in the world as possible. It is Gene who sends Rosie to Don’s office that fateful day, as a “wild card” for Don’s search for a suitable mate.
It’s obvious from the get-go that Don has Asperger’s syndrome (and he doesn’t realize it), and I have to confess that I had mixed feelings about it throughout the book. Because the story is meant to be a comedy, I couldn’t be sure that on some level Asperger’s wasn’t being exploited or poked fun of, and that made me uncomfortable. Don is an immensely likeable guy despite his social ineptitude and many quirks, and he’s definitely cast as the hero of the story. Still, I’m not sure if there is some sort of statement buried in the story illustrating our societal desire to fix anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within social constructs, or if it’s more of a statement about all of our foibles as human beings, Asperger’s or not.
I chose this book on recommendations from a couple of friends when I was trying to decide which book to choose for my book club this month. Although it’s apparently a bestseller, I had not heard of it before the recommendations. It’s probably not a book I would have otherwise chosen, as my tastes lean more towards drama and adversity. That said, I enjoyed it very much. It’s a quick-paced, light and entertaining read, and there were parts that literally had me laughing out loud. There’s a little bit of intrigue and suspense as Don goes to wild lengths to figure out Rosie’s paternity (the guess I made early on was right on, so it’s probably not difficult for the reader to figure out). It’s a pretty formulaic romantic comedy (can we please stop saying “rom-com”? Seriously.), and in fact was originally written as a screenplay. It has been optioned by Sony for the big screen.