The cover of The Rosie Project by Australian author Graeme Simsion misled me into thinking it would be too sweetly, quirkily romantic to be interesting, but reviews from bloggers such as Ti at Book Chatter (“a gem”) and Care at Care’s Online Book Club (“delightfully executed”) convinced me to try it.
The premise of the story is that the narrator, university professor Don Tillman – a geeky, scientifically trained geneticist, martial-arts expert, and talented cook, with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome – becomes convinced that getting married would be a good idea. But Don lacks the social skills necessary to navigate the dating scene, and after his one failed relationship, he doesn’t see the point of wasting his time on prospects who have no long-term potential.
Once he hits on the idea of finding a wife, Don becomes (obsessively?) focused on it, developing a detailed questionnaire intended to weed out fundamentally incompatible partners from the start. With helpful and unhelpful guidance from his university colleague and friend, Gene, and Gene’s wife Claudia, Don sets out to find his life partner in the most efficient, scientifically rigorous way possible.
Here’s an excerpt from early in the book, as an example of Don’s way of thinking:
“One of my tasks is to teach genetics to medical students. In the first class of the previous semester, a student, who did not identify himself, had raised his hand shortly after I showed my first slide. The slide is a brilliant and beautiful diagrammatic summary of evolution from single-cell organisms to today’s incredible variety of life. Only my colleagues in the Physics Department can match the extraordinary story that it tells. I cannot comprehend why some people are more interested in the outcome of a football match or the weight of an actress.”
Don understands that he sees things differently from (and behaves more rationally than) most people, and that many women might balk at filling out a multi-page questionnaire before a first date. The humor in the book comes from the unreliability of Don as a narrator, when – as we are meant to – we read between the lines the way that Don sees and interprets the behavior of “normal” people, as he often misreads social signals and facial expressions.
Seen from Don’s perspective, purely social interactions are time-wasting, irrational, and purposeless. Faintly ridiculous, in fact. He is confident in the correctness of his own approach to the problem, however. Until he meets Rosie, who shakes up his rigidly controlled, highly efficient routines and gets him to help her with her own quest – figuring out who her biological father is.
The Rosie Project sparkles with the wit and humor of a good romantic comedy. If you liked The Humans by Matt Haig, another novel about human behavior (especially among academics) from an unusual (alien) perspective, you’ll probably like The Rosie Project, which isn’t as darkly comic. Or, if you’re just in the mood for a fun, entertaining read with enough snippets of science to give it a little heft, try The Rosie Project. (For audiobook listeners, I think The Rosie Project would make a very funny audiobook. Check out reviews on Audiobook Jukebox and listen to an excerpt on Downpour to see what you think.)
The Rosie Project
Simon & Schuster
Oct. 1, 2013
Disclosure: I borrowed a copy of The Rosie Project through my public library. The softcover edition will be available in June.