The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
First published nearly a decade ago, “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion is a great book to enjoy when you’re looking for a laugh with some serious undertones. It’s an ‘opposites attract’ romance that works largely because of the strong, effective characters within it. The story is told by Don, giving us a direct window into his thought processes and feelings. Don has Asperger’s Syndrome, a very high functioning condition on the autism spectrum. At one point, Don says he likes his environment to be controlled. That’s a big understatement; he really likes everything in his life to be precisely the same from day to day.
Don is an associate professor of genetics at the University of Melbourne, He’s brilliant in his work but inept at social situations. Currently, he’s having something of a midlife crisis and wants to find a wife. He’s tried many of the usual ways of meeting someone – personal ads, online dating, chatting to women in bars, and so on. Unfortunately, since he’s disastrously awkward in social situations, nothing has worked. In fact, all his efforts have failed spectacularly. Entertaining accounts of Don’s social missteps are likely to make you laugh out loud.
Since Don thinks like the scientist he is, he decides to use what he knows and take a scientific approach to what he labels ‘The Wife Project’ and find a spouse that way. Not long after he begins, one of Don’s only friends sends a mature student named Rosie to see him about a project, and Dan misunderstands it to be regarding The Wife Project. Rosie is really seeking to find out who her dad is and that’s why she needs help from a geneticist. Rosie dresses like a biker, works in a gay bar, and is totally street-wise. She’s also studying psychology. Don determines she’s totally unsuited to be his wife but agrees to help her in her own quest. They start spending time together with assorted unusual outcomes. She somehow manages to get him to be less socially awkward, and he starts to see her as extremely desirable.
Don and Rosie each begin to have romantic feelings for the other, but instead of it being a happy experience, there’s frustration (and even confusion) because Don can’t understand what’s happening. That nearly leads to Rosie and Don cutting off contact with one another. Because everything is told from Don’s point of view, the tone of the story is frequently bewildered, analytical, and pensive. After all, he’s a reasoned and rational man who’s confused and confounded by emotionally driven people and their therefore irrational behavior – and love isn’t rational.
The dialogue in this story is done well, but I was surprised to find no hints of Australian dialect factors at all. Were it not for a few geographical mentions, one would have no idea where the story was set. I’m sure the author had his reasons, but it just seemed odd.
Rosie is the opposite of the woman Don’s Wife Project questionnaire suggested he wanted for his spouse, yet she’s the only woman with whom he falls in love. It doesn’t make sense to his logical mind, but he can’t deny the truth of it. Rosie learns that Don expresses love differently than most people do. She understands him, so she knows that he does actually love her – even if his ‘love language’ is new to her. At its core, this is a romance novel, so Don and Rosie get the happy conclusion we expect – and we’re lucky enough to enjoy the journey with them.