by Graeme Simsion
Simon & Schuster, 2013.
Hardcover, 295 pages. for the older crowd.
I told Sean that I’ve seen nothing but “Must Read” attached to Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project as I held up the bright red book. It appeared on a crazy number of “Best of” lists as 2013 was closing. So you’ll not read it, he replied, knowing how contrary I can be. But I said, “I actually am.” (coincidentally proving my contrariness.) And now: I own it! (thank you sweet daughter of mine). If I’d bothered to make a list of favorite reads of 2013 this holiday season, The Rosie Project would have been on it. It is a seriously good time and Don Tillman is the best leading man of the year.
The Rosie Project is, as the publisher trumpets, “a hilarious, feel-good novel.”
Our narrator Don Tillman is “thirty-nine years old, tall , fit, and intelligent, with a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor [of genetics at a prestigious University in Melbourne]. Logically, [he] should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, [he] would succeed in reproducing. However, there is something about [him] that women find unappealing” (3). Don goes on to share an example of a failed date. But while he is left wondering why women find him unappealing, the reader has little trouble at all. And yet, I find it hard to blame him as he laments the lost time and accumulated disappointment. And here lies much of the book’s appeal—Don’s perspective: both his obliviousness and his obsessions with detail.
His project to find a wife, holding on to a tenuous belief that there is a statistical probability of his finding a mate, is amusing. Lovelier is how Rosie’s project to find her biological father mirrors his. Lovelier still how neither are spectacularly “normal.” It is also exciting that Simsion does not place a traditionally acceptable model of marriage in hands of Don’s best friends (only real friends) Gene and Claudia. There is no room for the fallacy of perfect humans and perfect relationships in The Rosie Project.
The novel opens with a particularly funny situation wherein Don is going to give a lecture on Asperger’s, which is a new subject for him as he is covering for Gene. When Claudia asks if the expression seemed familiar to him, he identifies a colleague in the physics department, not himself, as she was so pointedly suggesting. The scene and its conversation is quickly shed as the novel progresses but what it was saying does not ever go away. His difference makes some things difficult for him, but he is not any less valuable or worthwhile or…however we measure a life. And that Don is source of humor, the novel never moves to humiliate him—love does this quite efficiently on its own… No one needs a diagnosis to understand how difficult reading a potential lover can be; or acknowledge how we can sabotage important moments out of fear, or even acute longing.
One of my favorite things about the book, aside from the Asperger’s Lecture, and the Daphnes, is how friendship functions in this romantic comedy—how much love requires it. But what does it look like, what does it do, and how does it affect a person both rationally and no.
The book is so effortless to read. Not in the predictably neat and tidy way, not at all. It is so funny and sweet and smart—incredibly smart. It was never a chore, is quotable whilst in the room with someone, and is requiring of several deep satisfying and exasperating sighs. I may have held my breath a time or two, The Rosie Project is an adventure you’ll not want to miss.
of note: a 2013 read.