The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Book Review of The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

The book is basically a rom-com, but with the unusual twist that the man seeking love (genetics professor Don Tillman) has a psychological disorder which I assume is Asperger’s Syndrome.  (Wikipedia says this causes significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests).  

In Don’s case, his condition has resulted in him adopting a mechanistic and analytical approach to the problems of daily life.

Don has a weekly menu which he does not vary allowing him to place the same grocery order every week (thus minimising time and effort spent shopping and cooking).  His apartment has no pictures on the walls because Don knows that after a few days he will no longer notice them, so what’s the point?  

His diary is programmed to the minute and if any appointment is delayed or prolonged he has to go back and adjust the rest of the diary to reduce time scheduled for leisure activities.

With traits like these, it is no surprise that Don doesn’t find it easy to form relationships with women.  He sees little point in small-talk and has a habit of applying an incisive logic to any off-the-cuff remark, failing to see that the give and take of conversation is crucial to developing relationships.  For example, on receiving an invitation to follow up a lecture over dinner with an attractive woman, Don says,

“What specific topics were you interested in?”

“Oh” she said, “I thought we could just talk generally . . . get to know each other a bit”.

This sounded extremely unfocused.  “I need at least a broad indication of the subject domain.  What did I say that particularly interested you?”

“Oh . . . I guess the stuff about the computer testers in Denmark.”

“Computer applications testers,” I corrected her.

Don has to face up to the fact that unless he tries a different approach he is never going to find a woman to have a long-term relationship with and out of the blue he decides to launch “The Wife Project”.

A questionnaire! Such an obvious solution.  A purpose-built, scientifically valid instrument incorporating current best practice to filter out the time wasters, the disorganised, the ice-cream discriminators, the visual-harassment complainers, the crystal gazers, the horoscope readers, the fashion obsessives, the religious fanatics, the vegans, the sports watchers, the creationists, the smokers, the scientifically illiterate, the homeopaths, leaving ideally the perfect partner, or, realistically, a manageable short-list of candidates.

Don shows his questionnaire with his colleague Gene and his wife Claudia, who are unhappy with the idea but can’t dissuade Don from launching his new project.  At least Claudia tries to dissuade Don from just handing out the questionnaire to potential new partners, and when Don goes on a “Table for Eight” dinner date he tries to categorises each of the four women by what he thinks there answers would be, in no time eliminating them all from further consideration.

Eventually Gene sends a woman to Don who he thinks might have an effect on him.  Rosie knocks on his door one day and after some preliminary verbal skirmishes, they agree to meet for dinner.  She is everything Don had factored out in his questionnaire, but somehow Don finds himself agreeing to help her trace her unknown father though his expertise in genetics.  At this stage, you can tell where the book is going, with Don slowly realising that Rosie is getting under his skin.

There are many funny set pieces in which Don gets into various scrapes because of his Aspergers problem, but somehow Rosie keeps coming back.

Apparently the book started out as a film-script which Graeme Simsion wrote as a class-assignment when he took a part-time screenwriting course.  Patricia Nichol interviewed the author for the Sunday Times and reported that “a producer came on board after it won an award from the ­Australian Screenwriter’s Guild, but that was no guarantee of it ever being made. When Simsion asked the ­producer if turning it into a novel might help, she responded: ‘Only if it’s a ­bestseller, Graeme.’ ”

The book is very visual and with such a world-wide interest in the book, no doubt film-rights are already being discussed – I could easily see someone like Jim Carey in the role of Don.

Of course, this isn’t the first work of fiction to be written on an autism theme.  Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-time was the first best-seller with an autistic main character.  There is even a list on GoodReads of Popular Asperger Autism Related Fiction.  

On the basis that there are only about a dozen stories in fiction which keep repeating themselves, The Rosie Project also falls into the category of “books about emotionally disconnected men whose hearts get softened by a woman coming into their lives”, the best example I can think of being Anne Tyler’s excellent book The Accidental Tourist which was made into a film starring William Hurt.

I am sure this book will sell very well, an ideal holiday read, nothing too much serious, but thought-provoking in it’s own way.  Pick it up if you have a long train journey or a flight to a distant place coming up and you won’t be disappointed. And expect to hear much more about it in the next few months.