The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
It’s not often that you know you’re going to love a book within the first few pages, but with The Rosie Project, that was never in question for me. It is the story of Don Tillman, a genetics professor at an Australian university. Having never made it to a second date, he’s decided it’s time to get married – but who to and how will he find a wife?
It very soon becomes clear that Don is definitely on the Aspergers spectrum. He schedules his life to the minute – has a set weekly menu which includes lobster on Tuesdays. He is very literal, and doesn’t understand emotion well.
Yet, the author never makes fun of him, we’re on a voyage of self-discovery with Don as he explores the world of romance in his attempts to find a wife. We’re with him all the way.
He is aided in his quest by his only real friends – Gene, a libidinous colleague who is always off on affairs, and Gene’s long-suffering wife, psychologist Claudia. Don has come up with a mammoth questionnaire to pre-sort potential mates – for instance, smokers and vegetarians will not make it to the next step of a date. Amazingly, Don gets lots of replies to his questionnaire, and Gene helps to sort them!
Then, one day, Gene sends Rosie, a researcher in his department to Don. Rosie is on a quest of her own, to discover her biological father. She knows it was one of the professors at a conference her late mother was at – there’s a group photo. All she needs to do is to identify all the people, find them, get a DNA sample – and Bob’s your uncle – father found. Of course it’s not that simple – but Don is the right man to help.
Approximately two house after Gene left my office with the completed Wife Project questionnaires, there was a knock on the door. I was engaged in an activity which is not forbidden, but I suspect only because nobody is aware that I am doing it. I was weighing student essays as part of a project to reduce the effort of assessment, by looking for easily measured parameters such as weight, inclusion of a table of contents, typed versus handwritten cover sheet, which might provide as good an indication of quality as the tedious process of reading the entire assignment.
I slipped the scales under my desk as the door opened and looked up to see a woman who I did not recognise standing in the doorway. I estimated her age as thirty and her body mass index at twenty.
As my name is on the door, this was not a particularly astute question.
‘Professor Barrow gave me your name.’
I was amazed at Gene’s efficiency, and looked at the woman more carefully as she approached the desk. There were no obvious signs of unsuitability. I did not detect any make-up. Her body shape and skin tone were consistent with health and fitness. She wore glasses, with heavy frames that revived bad memories of Apricot Ice-cream Woman, a long black t-shirt that was torn in several places, heavy shoes and a black belt with metal chains. It was lucky that the jewellery question had been deleted, because she was wearing big metal earrings and an extremely interesting pendant around her neck.
Don thinks that Gene has sent Rosie round for the wife project – he invites her out to dinner. Rosie is slim and pretty, but quirky and definitely impulsive, she also smokes and is a vegetarian, doesn’t fit his profile of what he’s looking for in a wife at all, he’s oddly attracted to her.
He agrees to help. Of course the problem in this is that the candidates mustn’t know they are being tested – so getting saliva smears, hair follicles etc for DNA testing will be difficult – not to mention unethical, but Don, although he doesn’t know it is doubly smitten, with the idea of the project – and Rosie. The will they – won’t they get together love story is hilarious and heart-warming. Don and Rosie are both lovely, and obviously made for each other, but Rosie’s quest and Don’s rational way of looking at things will get in the way leading to increasingly bizarre situations as they collect the DNA samples.
Don’s narration is so matter of fact, but because of this is unintentionally funny. The humour in this novel will make you laugh out loud, but always with Don and Rosie, never at their expense. Don’s gradual understanding of his emotions and his experiments at putting this into action are great fun. Underneath though, Don remains true to himself – the changes are mostly cosmetic, he’s playing a role and we love him for it.
The novel started life as a screenplay before the author’s change in direction to make it a book. It’s always fun to mentally cast the film – Martin Freeman would be ideal for Don, but I’d really like to see … ooh … George Clooney play against type with, say, Kate Winslett as Rosie. Who would you cast?
Funnily enough, after I finished reading this on holiday, we went to the cinema to see Despicable Me 2, which hilarious (but probably better if you see Despicable Me first). The relationship between baddie-turned-goodie Gru and madcap agent Lucy in this film reminded me a lot of Don and Rosie!
It is so rare for comedy novels to really work. The Rosie Project does – and I highly recommend it. (9/10)
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Source: Review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, pub April 2013 by Penguin Michael Joseph; hardback, 304 pages.