Friday, October 4, 2013

Review of Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Are you looking for a little palate cleanser between your usual reading courses of murder and mayhem? I found a tasty tidbit that was published on October 1 by Simon & Schuster. It's Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project, and you may remember I mentioned looking forward to it in my Fall Preview post here.

Professor Don Tillman is an assistant professor of genetics at an Australian university. Don also has every single minute of his life organized for maximum efficiency, including having a set menu for every night of the week (aka the Standardized Meal System). All calories, all minutes, all units of any kind are counted, and any forced deviations require a complete recalculation of everything that follows.

I know what you're thinking: this guy has Asperger's. Simsion definitely implies that, especially in his hilarious Chapter 2. Don has been roped into giving a talk on autism when one of his colleagues has to cancel, and Don prepares to give a lofty, academic-level speech called "Genetic Precursors to Autism Spectrum Disorders." He's not in the least deterred that his audience is a group of children with Asperger's, and their parents. Julie, the poor woman who is the facilitator, valiantly tries to steer Don to a more layperson-friendly approach. Don resists.

In response to a comment from Julie, Don tells the audience that autism is not a fault, but simply a
variant, and arguably a positive one, since it is associated with "organization, focus, innovative thinking, and rational detachment." When the question arises whether "rational detachment" means "lack of emotion," Don decides that if Julie wants a more layperson-friendly approach, he will use an illustrative example to answer the question. He posits a situation in which a people are hiding in a basement, being hunted by enemies. Everyone must keep completely quiet, but a baby is crying. Don then adds, "You have a gun––with a silencer." Pandemonium erupts in the lecture room but, on the plus side, the kids are totally into the story and have many suggestions for next steps, which you can just imagine.

So you can see why Don can be a trial to people. While he doesn't realize exactly why he puts people off, he knows he has issues. Still, he'd like to have more friends beyond fellow professor Gene and Gene's wife Claudia, and he'd especially like to have a wife. Now that's a challenge, he recognizes, since he's never had a second date. On one of his recent first dates, they go for ice cream and she wants apricot.  When the shop doesn't have that flavor, she decides to pass. Don, after ordering his double cone of chocolate chili and licorice (whoa), tells her she should order mango, since all ice cream, especially fruit flavors, taste basically the same because ice cream chills the taste buds. She disagrees, but Don insists on conducting an experiment to see if she can identify different flavors in a blind taste test. By the time he's purchased the test cones, his date has left the building.

Don decides that the most efficient approach is to design a 16-page questionnaire, which he posts on a dating website. The questionnaire includes items designed to reveal whether the target is habitually tardy (which would rule her out, of course), a non-meat eater (ditto), and many more. Amazingly, many women choose to respond to the questionnaire. Not so amazingly, nobody comes close to the perfect score Don expects.

When Don meets Gene's acquaintance, Rosie the bartender, she asks him to help her find out who her father is. Her mother died when she was 10, but told her that her father was one of her medical school classmates who attended a graduation party. So now Don has the Rosie Project, in addition to the Wife Project, which involves the walking uncontrollable variable that is Rosie.

Knowing Rosie requires nonstop adjustments of Don's schedule, Standardized Meal System and liquor/food allowances. That will happen when you get into bar fights, need to become an expert mixologist, fly to New York, steal guys' DNA, have to climb out a fourth-floor bathroom window, and so on. It's also a huge mental adjustment for Don, Mr. Literal, to deal with Rosie, Ms. Sarcasm. But we cheer for him to adjust, because underneath it all, he's a sweetheart––and he's all in favor of personal improvement and learning new things.

The Rosie Project is a delightful romp of a first novel. It was originally conceived of as a screenplay, and I'll bet it'll become one soon. Congratulations to former IT consultant Graeme Simsion, and I hope he keeps on writing.

Note: I received a free review copy of The Rosie Project.


  1. Sold. I've been wondering what to read over the Columbus Day weekend and now I know. Thanks.

  2. It would definitely make a nice Columbus Day weekend read. Or this weekend!

  3. Georgette, I had taken it off my endless TBR list, but it looks like a charmer. I'll put it back, thanks!

  4. Sister, my daughter loved the book, and I just started it. Great news: Graeme Simsion's website states that he's currently working on a sequel.