Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

***SBRs 5th Best Read for 2013*** 

Publication date: 11th April 2013
Published by: Penguin
Genre: Contemporary Romance

The Rosie Project was high on the list of new contemporary romance books tipped to be big this summer.  I heard an interview with the author, Graeme Simsion and was immediately taken in by the plot.

The story is set in Melbourne, Australia and is about Don Tillman, a reasonably good looking, intelligent, financially comfortable single man in his late thirties. In theory he ought to be a good catch.  In reality Don is nerdy, socially awkward, can count the number of friends he has with one hand (and still have digits to spare) and his experience with the few women he has dated has been disastrous. Where most people use eye or hair colour, height and possibly ethnicity to describe someone, Don estimates average age and BMI (body mass index), the rest being irrelevant.  He is almost ready to give up on a chance of finding a partner when he comes up with a plan to find ‘the one’.  

Don is a university professor and his plan is to approach what he calls ‘the wife problem’ as a scientific research project (‘The Wife Project’), and is convinced this could work.  He sets about collecting his primary data by devising a questionnaire.  In this way he will be able to identify all the unsuitable characteristics early and rule out the unsuitable candidates, thus increasing his chances of finding the perfect match.  He seeks advice from his only two friends – Gene and his wife Claudia – also both university academics.  They help him tweak his questions and he gets started on his project.  

One day, Rosie turns up in his office.  She has been sent to him by Gene and Don assumes she is for the wife project.  He asks her out and they arrange to have dinner.  During the date, Don discovers that Rosie is completely unsuitable and should have been ruled out by the questionnaire. He cannot understand why Gene would propose her. However, he also recognises that he actually enjoyed her company.  He decides he would like to befriend her and, having discovered during a conversation that she would like to find her biological father, comes up with a plan to help her….

The above synopsis may sound very strange.  I did leave something out.  Don has Asperger’s and this is why he has problems forming relationships with others and why, although highly unconventional, his approach to finding a partner sort of makes sense.  I have to say I liked Don a lot.  His honesty is refreshing and his approach to adapting to his environment makes for interesting reading.  In this way, he is like Christopher Boon of The Curious Incident of theDog in the Night Time.  No doubt many will draw parallels between this book and that one for that reason.  Interestingly, Mark Haddon said that when he wrote the Curious Incident…, he deliberately left out the word ‘autism’ because he did not want readers to focus on this.  He felt that Christopher’s experiences and situation should relate to anyone.  I am not convinced he achieved this.  In contrast, the Rosie Project, which incidentally does mention Asperger’s several times, did.  I am convinced that there are countless individuals who do not have Asperger's who can relate to Don’s social awkwardness, his embarrassing blunders made in public places, his difficulty with making friends, etc.  These are common universal problems – just not the kind people are necessarily willing to admit to.  

The romance in this book is pitched perfectly – neither sentimental nor without heart.  Talk about dramatic irony; throughout the story we the readers see Don fall in love with Rosie while he is completely oblivious.  His honesty is very touching (like when he tells us about his sister and about Daphne).   It is also very funny in parts.  I was on the train when I read the part about Rosie making air quotes to emphasise the word ‘father’ and Don’s mind working out what it meant and finally reciprocating like it was a game.  I had to bite my lip to stop myself laughing out loud like a crazy person on public transport.  Also, although I do not condone Gene’s behaviour, I have to say it was funny the way he came up with his own ‘research project’ to justify his behaviour – and you have to admit it was clever to use Don’s questionnaire results as his ‘secondary data’ for that ‘research project’.  Don is humble and rather self-deprecating; he does not see what a wonderful human being or great judge of character he is.  (He may only have had a few friends in his life but the ones he has chosen have been the very best kind.) 

 Like David Nicholls’ ‘One day’, I can picture guys reading this one as much as ladies – and they should because I think it will appeal to them too.  

I always include criticisms in my reviews – for balance – but I could not fault this book.  Writing a great novel is hard work and so I admire those who are able to achieve an excellent debut.   For me, The Rosie Project is just that.  

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