The Rosie Project was not what I expected at all. Having heard about this novel from numerous sources, I’m not sure what I did expect, only that after reading an interview with Graeme Simsion and his wife (the author, Anne Buist), I knew I simply had to read it – and I’m so glad I did.
Originally written as a screenplay and five years in the crafting, The Rosie Project tells the extraordinary and delightfully absurd tale of Associate Professor Don Tillman, a geneticist who, despite his eidetic memory and OCD mannerisms, is unable to understand he clearly has Aspergers. Unlucky in love – well, in anything to do with women – and recognising he’s at least socially challenged, Don decides to embark on what he calls “The Wife Project” – something that makes perfect sense to him. Rather than continue to navigate the dating minefield where he detonates explosives all too often, he composes a detailed, scientifically sound and hilarious (to the reader) questionnaire, which he submits to dating websites and hands to almost any woman he encounters in order to find himself someone of the opposite sex with whom he’ll be compatible.
Viewing the world through his own unique prism (eg. as soon as he sets eyes on a person he is able to assess their BMI), with no fashion sense and finding it difficult to deviate from the rigid self-imposed timetable by which he governs his life – professional and personal – Don is astonishingly charming and funny. Unconstrained by factors that bother all too many of us, the superficialities we deem important such as appearances, Don evaluates folk by different but significant criteria. I haven’t laughed out loud so often while reading a book in such a long time. Nor have a winced, felt my heart squeezed or rooted for a brilliant underdog quite the way I have Don Tillman.
Evoking the world of someone with Aspergers as well as the politics and egos of academia with ease (having spent twenty plus years in the academy, I know Simsion captures it all too well), this novel balances romance, comedy and pathos beautifully. Don’s efforts to uncover a wife are heart-wrenchingly naïve, gauche, painful and belly-achingly funny.
Likewise, the character of Rosie is as pragmatic and earthy as Don is impractical (for all his seeming sense). What he lacks in EQ, Rosie more than makes up for and their adventures together are a charming quest that explores love, friendship, ethics, compatibility, trust, communication and the lengths humans will go to in order to find, rebuff and recognise love.
Filled with wonderful aphorisms and observations, this is a joy to read and I cannot wait to lose myself in the sequel.