“I am thirty-nine years old; single, intelligent, fit, in excellent health and I have a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor. Logically, I should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, I would succeed in reproducing.
However, there is something about me that women find unappealing. I have never found it easy to make friends, and it seems that the deficiencies that caused this problem have also affected my attempts at romantic relationships. The Apricot Ice-cream Disaster is a good example.”
Don Tillman is getting married. He just doesn’t know who to yet. But he has designed a very detailed questionnaire to help him find the perfect woman. One thing he already knows, though, is that it’s not Rosie. Absolutely, completely, definitely not. Yet an unlikely partnership blooms when Don agrees to help Rosie search for her biological father. As Rosie pushes Don out of his comfort zone again and again, he finds to his surprise that he may be having fun. But can a real relationship take root if Don isn’t wired to feel emotion like everyone else?
The Rosie Project is a story about life, love, and lobster on Tuesdays. Don Tillman is an odd, charming, highly intelligent and extremely socially awkward professor of genetics at a prestigious Melbourne university. His life is lived according to conventions, timetables, rules and familiarity, and in nearly every aspect of it he has total control and complete satisfaction. The one area which isn’t living up to Don’s wishes or expectations is his love life – being unable to relate to most people and actively choosing to avoid some of them hasn’t helped him get anywhere close to finding that special someone who will be simultaneously acceptable to and attracted to him. Don seeks to right this ‘gap’ in the same meticulous and logical fashion with which he approaches cooking, dressing and shopping; that is to say, with a totally inflexible checklist and a preconceived idea of necessity. His search to find a suitable partner becomes a project, classified just like all other tasks he undergoes throughout the day, a project in which emotions and love take second place to BMI, units of alcohol drunk and timekeeping abilities professed by any potential spouse.
Whilst ‘The Wife Project’ is underway, Don crosses paths with Rosie, a woman he mistakenly thinks applied to date him via his extensive questionnaire. Rosie is immediately rejected as wife material – she smokes, doesn’t eat meat, drinks more than the standardized recommendation for women and has dyed hair – but as it turns out, she only wants Don to help her track down her secret biological father using his position and equipment at the university laboratory. Don agrees to undertake ‘The Father Project’ alongside ‘The Wife Project’ and allows himself to consider Rosie as a friend now that he has established she cannot be a romantic match for him – a concept that he is also relatively unfamiliar with, having only had four countable friends in his whole life: an old lady now suffering from dementia, his sister, now dead, and married couple Gene and Claudia whom he has known for years. As Don sees more and more of Rosie he becomes increasingly confused by his reaction to her and the experiences they share, their ‘friendship’ being unlike any he has shared before. Spending time with Rosie forces Don to abandon much of his regular timetable and repetitive habits, and propels him into a world full of social interaction, spontaneous decision making and societal norms that were previously alien to him.
Although not explicitly stated, it is inferred that Don suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome or is at least on the Autistic Spectrum, a fact supported by the incredible way in which Simsion writes from the perspective of someone with such a disorder. Don’s narrative is convincingly ‘in-line’ with the sort of analytic thought processes and logical deductions consistent with Asperger’s, as well as being fantastically witty in a totally innocent and non-judgmental way. Don is unfamiliar with most well known social faux-pas, often with hilarious cringeworthy results that immediately endear you to him as a character. As Rosie continues to push Don further and further out of his comfort zone, he begins to align himself more closely with what are considered the ‘normal’ aspects of personality and socialization, and engages in a level of introspection beyond anything previously considered. Although happy to be living his life how he lives it; how he’s always lived it, Don realizes that he can make a few positive changes in his demeanor that would enable him to ‘fit in’ more, and for the first time in his life he finds himself actively wanting to fit in – eventually reaching the conclusion that his desires are driven by an attraction to Rosie, an unconventional and unexpected attraction that Don tries desperately to understand in time before he risks losing her to his own faults.
Touchingly revealing, gently uplifting and laugh-out-loud funny in places, The Rosie Project is altogether a fascinating and comical insight into the mind of a socially ‘abnormal’ man trying his best to find companionship in the wilderness that is 21st Century matchmaking. Given that Don doesn’t know if he can even feel love, his quest for a wife takes on a completely different method and formula from most other books of a similar genre, and keeps The Rosie Project fresh, charming and absorbing. I gained immense pleasure from seeing Don grow and develop as a person by using the skills he acquires from interacting with Rosie in other parts of his life, for example in how he treats Gene, Claudia, strangers and his own family. Simsion provides a genuine and captivating insight into the mind of Don and the world through his eyes, and emphasizes the well known adage that however well you try and rationalize life and live according to logic, there are some things that no amount of reason or foreshadowing can control, and it might just be that these things are the most important things of all.
The Rosie Project is not, by any means, a romantic novel, nor is it simply ‘chick-lit’ – instead being a very clever, very funny, very dry and very fascinating ‘docu-novel’ that does and should appeal to all ages and genders. I wasn’t surprised to discover that it was originally written as the script of a screenplay, as I can see it translating to a film or documentary incredibly well indeed, and genuinely hope it gets picked up by someone who can take it to the screen. This book has been one of my favourite reads so far of 2013 and is a real feel-good novel – think of it as a cross between The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time, with extra added humour. Overall a distinctive and heartwarming foray into fiction by Simsion; keep an keen eye out for when this hits the shelves in spring!
The Rosie Project will be published on 11 April 2013 by Penguin Books Ltd and is available to pre-order via a variety of consumer websites and high street bookstores.
Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me by the authors publicity team, working through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair review. I did not receive any payment for this post, nor I am affiliated with the author or any sales of this book