When a friend recommended “The Rosie Project” (2013) to me, it sounded like a perfect read for this busy season: fast moving and hilarious. She was so right. Australian IT consultant-turned-writer Graeme Simsion struck gold with his breakout novel.
Narrator Don Tillman is a brilliant geneticist but so emotionally and socially inept that at the age of 39 he has only two friends — fellow professor Gene Barrow and Gene’s psychologist-wife Claudia. Although Don is unaware of it, readers can see immediately that he fits somewhere on the autism spectrum. He plans his life down to the minute, cooks the same seven dinners each week and reacts to stress by creating a spreadsheet.
Although reading a book narrated by Don might sound like a dreary bore, nothing could be farther from the truth. Simsion allows Don’s tenderness and good heart to glow behind his robotic behavior and wooden delivery. Don’s misunderstandings, missteps and miscommunications are often laugh-out-loud funny. “I’m used to creating amusement inadvertently,” he tells us.
Don understands it is time to find a life partner and launches the Wife Project (a subset of his People Project). To help him uncover the perfect mate, he develops a questionnaire (16 double-sided pages) to distribute through online match sites, a commercial matchmaking event called Table for Eight and a speed-dating session (for which Claudia advises him to memorize the questionnaire rather than read it). Gene and Claudia had been consulted when the draft was prepared; they were responsible for convincing Don to remove questions about herpes, HIV and Body Mass Index.
So into his life comes Rosie, a sarcastic 30-ish woman with spiky red hair, heavy metal jewelry and big black boots. Don follows his friends’ suggestion to ask prospective partners out for dinner, so after their first date he reports back that Rosie is “the world’s most incompatible person.” Yet when Don learns that Rosie is trying to discover the identity of her biological father, he jumps into this evidence-based quest by devising a plan involving the DNA identification equipment at work.
After months of involvement with Rosie in the Father Project, Don is troubled. “Feelings,” he says “are disrupting my sense of well-being.” He’s perplexed by a “nagging desire to be working on the Father Project rather than on the Wife Project.”
The light touch that Simsion gives to the changes in Don’s thoughts and behaviors as he becomes more involved with Rosie is masterful. You can’t help but cheer when Don utters, “Go with the flow!” or when Don buys his second-ever popular song (“Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones) to add to his collection of one (“Running on Empty” by Jackson Brown) and puts them on shuffle in his car for the duration of a six-hour ride. “Unlike many people,” he says, “I’m very comfortable with repetition.”
A film of “The Rosie Project” is in production now but don’t wait. This is a book you must read first.