The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
MEET DON TILLMAN, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.
Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you. (via Goodreads)
Characters on the spectrum are tricky. There is the temptation to create a character that is inherently less than the audience; therefore, the reader can feel smarter and “in the know” in relation to the character. For me, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time fell into this category. The point of that book seemed to be the story that the character wasn’t seeing, and I thought it put me, the reader, in a wince-worthy position.
It’s also easy, I think, to go into the land of caricature. There is entertainment value in eccentricities. The problem with this is that many adults on the spectrum have found non-obtrusive lifestyle work-arounds. Maybe there is a little less eye-contact in social situations and a little more passion when discussing certain subjects (or even dispassion when discussing emotionally charged issues).
The Rosie Project does do both of these things to some degree. There is a wide range of behavior on the spectrum and Don falls firmly into the amusingly eccentric. He has an immutable down-to-the-minute schedule. He takes the term “jacket” way too literally. He estimates a person’s BMI upon meeting them. These things are a little extreme. On the other hand, one of Don’s responses strikes me as fundamentally true for the people on the spectrum that I know (and maybe myself as well): when Don is told that the woman he’s going on a date with has firm beliefs he asks, “Are they evidence-based?” It’s not that there is an innate skepticism to people on the spectrum, but there is usually a firm default position that comes out occasionally.
(For what it’s worth: Simsion based Don on people he knew in physics and the tech industry. He didn’t purposefully research Asperger’s or other areas of the autism spectrum.)
The other issue, the reader being the smart one, didn’t bother me much due to the genre of this novel. The romantic comedy is somewhat based on the audience presuming to know what is best for the characters. Most of the time, it’s only Don’s relationship with Rosie that we see “the truth” of. Often, Don can see the areas in which a faux pas might be made, and explains the methods he’s taken to deal with the situation or acknowledges, “yes, that was a faux pas,” which is certainly more the position of an intelligent adult.
The story itself is a little wild, a little unbelievable maybe, but also fun. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The audio book I listened to was read by Dan O’Grady, a native Australian. It hadn’t sunk in to me that the book was set there so he was the perfect voice of Don.
Publishing info, my copy: Audio, HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books, Nov 20, 2014
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: Romantic Comedy