‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion

Ordinarily I finish a book and bang out a review a day or two later.

It’s more than two weeks since I finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. What’s taken me so long to write a review? I guess I’m a little conflicted about this book. First and foremost, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s quirky, funny and a completely original love story.

It’s the story of Don Tillman, a university genetics professor. Don is getting married. He just doesn’t know who to yet. He’s designed a very detailed questionnaire (The Wife Project) to help him find the perfect woman.

“Gene and Claudia tried for a while to assist me with the Wife Problem. Unfortunately, their approach was based on the traditional dating paradigm, which I had previously abandoned on the basis that the probability of success did not justify the effort and negative experiences.”

When Rosie Jarman comes to his office, Don assumes it’s to apply for the Wife Project. Rosie is most certainly an unsuitable candidate – she smokes, drinks, doesn’t eat meat, and is incapable of punctuality. However, Rosie has no interest in becoming Mrs Tillman and is actually there to enlist Don’s assistance in a professional capacity: to help her find her biological father.

The book is peppered with Don’s quirks – from his mental calculation of the BMI of every person he meets to his stiff, formal language, and his methodical, intensely logical approach to everything from what to eat for dinner to transport –

“‘You want to share a taxi?’ asked Rosie. It seemed a sensible use of fossil fuel.”

I really wish I could have just relaxed and enjoyed this book at face value – that being a delightful rom-com. But I couldn’t because the unspoken theme is Asperger’s. We assume Don is an ‘Aspie’ although this is never fully acknowledged (partly because it is written in the first person and of course Don doesn’t find his own behaviour particularly odd). I have a nephew who is Asperger’s and The Rosie Project (like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Look Me in the Eye and Mozart and the Whale) provided sometimes painful little glimpses into what his future might hold.

Many will say that The Rosie Project is a celebration of the brilliance and eccentricities of Asperger’s and that’s true. It really is. But between those moments, there’s a lifetime of school dances, getting picked for sports teams, dinners, flirtations, job interviews and dates to navigate. That’s a lifetime of tricky.

There are many highlights and memorable scenes including Don’s hilarious attempt at speed-dating and a superb night as a cocktail barman. However my favourite was at the beginning of the story when Don gives a presentation to a group of parents and their children about Asperger’s (but in preparing the presentation does not see any parallels with his own life).

“‘Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant. It’s potentially a major advantage. Asperger’s syndrome is associated with organisation, focus, innovative thinking and rational detachment.’…A woman at the rear of the room raised her hand. I was focused on the argument now, and made a minor social error, which I quickly corrected. ‘The fat woman – overweight woman – at the back?’ She paused and looked around the room, but then continued, ‘Rational detachment: is that a euphemism for lack of emotion?’ ‘Synonym,’ I replied. ‘Emotions can cause major problems.'”

The takeaway message from The Rosie Project is simple and sincere – you don’t find love, love finds you.

“…it dawned on me that I had not designed the questionnaire to find a woman I could accept, but to find someone who might accept me.”

I’m quite sure The Rosie Project will be made into a film. And it will be brilliant.

4/5 Read it, you won’t be sorry. (Note that the only reason this book didn’t get full marks was because I didn’t like the New York trip that Don and Rosie take – the story lost it’s pace there a little, only to race to a conclusion).

Don’s lobster salad is based on a recipe from Teage Ezard’s Contemporary Australian Food. Try as I might, I could track down the recipe online, although there are many of Ezard’s amazing recipes available here. Instead. a found an equally delicious lobster salad with a tangy dressing.


16 responses

  1. I read Kim’s review a few days ago and I find really interesting that you point out what you call ‘the unspoken theme’. I hadn’t realized that Don was concerned (I know very little on Asperger). Unfortunetaly, I am not sure that this book fits my tastes but I will be interested by a film version.

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