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Graeme Simsion, The Rosie project (Review)

March 9, 2013
Simsion, The Rosie Project

Bookcover (Courtesy: Text Publishing)

While I go to films fairly regularly, I rarely think of adapting books to film when I am reading. However, I was only a few pages into Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie project when it occurred to me that it was perfect film material. The feeling got stronger – and then around a third of the way through the novel I decided to look at the publicity sheet Text Publishing sent with the book. I usually read these sheets after reading the book. Guess what? The Rosie project started as a screenplay and has won a Writers’ Guild Award for Best Romantic Comedy.

This brings me to the other thing that crossed my mind as I read it:  how to categorise it. I’ve now read two books in a row that are a little outside my usual fare. Like the previous one, Anita Heiss’s Paris dreaming, The Rosie project is a romance, but it’s not chicklit and I’m not sure it fits the romance genre as a whole either. You see, the protagonist – as the cover may have told you – is a man, one Professor Don Tillman. As I understand it, romance novels tends to involve a female protagonist and the trials and tribulations she meets en route to true love. Movies have a genre called “romcom” but I’m not sure that term is used for novels. It is, however, the most appropriate description for this novel – because it’s a romance and it’s funny.

Now, I’d better give you a brief outline of the plot. It opens with Don Tillman, a genetics professor, about to give a public lecture on Asperger Syndrome as a favour for his friend Gene (ha!), a psychology professor. In the second paragraph, you start to suspect that Don himself has Asperger’s:

The timing was extremely annoying. The preparation could be time-shared with lunch consumption, but on the designated evening I had scheduled ninety-four minutes to clean my bathroom.

Ninety-FOUR minutes!? The novel continues in this vein with Don admitting to being socially inept, to being routine-driven and focused on efficiency over all else, and so on. He knows all this about himself, but never in the novel is he named as having Asperger Syndrome so I won’t either. However, this description of him provides a good introduction to the novel’s basic premise. Don, nearing 40, wants a wife but, not surprisingly given the way he approaches the world, he hasn’t had much success. He starts the Wife Project and creates a 16-page questionnaire designed to help him eliminate unlikely candidates before he wastes time on getting to know them. In comes 30-year-old Rosie, whom he thinks Gene has sent to him as a candidate. But Rosie, he quickly realises, would fail his questionnaire on the first page. She smokes, works in a bar (and so, he presumes, would fall below the required IQ), is not punctual, dresses unconventionally – you get the picture. Yet, there’s something about Rosie … so, pretty soon, Don offers to help her find who her father is, and thus begins the Father Project, which rather puts on hold the Wife Project.

From here, the novel runs pretty much to a romcom formula. The light tone tells you that it is likely to turn out the way you expect but despite this, the novel engages. This is because, although the plot is formulaic, the characters aren’t. Don is an unlikely hero. He’s aware of his difference and, as the novel progresses, starts to think about whether he can change himself to become more acceptable to people. It’s, dare I say it, poignant – but it’s not saccharine. Don and Rosie are too themselves for that. The novel also has some truly laugh-out-loud scenes. Comedy which involves ridiculing difference can be uncomfortable but again the tone saves it – it’s light and it’s warm. We like Don and our laughter is not so much at his behaviour as at the absurdity of the situations he sometimes finds himself in. I loved, for example, his description of his special treatment by airlines:

As we drank champagne in the lounge, I explained that I had earned special privileges by being particularly vigilant and observant of rules and procedures on previous flights, and by making  a substantial number of helpful suggestions regarding check-in procedures, flight scheduling, pilot training and ways in which security systems might be subverted. I was no longer expected to offer advice, having contributed ‘enough for a lifetime of flying’.

I enjoyed the book. It is a warm, but not stuffily earnest, book about accepting and celebrating difference, about negotiating relationships that accommodate different ways of being. It would make a great film.

Lisa at ANZLitLovers also found it fun.

Graeme Simsion
The Rosie project
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2013
329pp.
ISBN: 9781922079770

(Review copy supplied by Text Publishing)

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2013 3:45 am

    Sounds like a good choice for some light relief. I agree it can be very surprising when one changes genre and perhaps I should do it more!

    • March 10, 2013 9:33 am

      It was a good choice for that purpose … The character was well written … I think it was based on someone he knew so the stilted, formal voice felt authentic. That helps.

  2. debbierodgers permalink
    March 10, 2013 6:52 am

    I wouldn’t normally read “RomCom”, but on your recommendation, I may do this one.

    • March 10, 2013 9:35 am

      No, I wouldn’t either Debbie, as you’d know … But it is nicely done here and would be a good read between denser books.

  3. March 10, 2013 10:09 am

    Oh, this is the one you mentioned to me, right? Definitely sounds interesting. Also…. happy birthday (again!) xo

    • March 10, 2013 10:19 am

      Yes, I think so … I started it then had to stop for reading group!s book, then came back to it.

  4. March 10, 2013 5:17 pm

    I’m looking forward to reading this for Bemboka book club. In the meantime I’ve found three new genres on Wikipedia – ‘men’s romantic fiction’, ‘gay men’s romantic fiction’ (where both protagonists are male) and lad lit. It seems from googling that there’s a demand for romantic fiction with a male protagonist from male readers who don’t mind it mixed up with thriller or mystery. ( presume this goes beyond attraction to a woman who turns out to be the next murder victim or the murderer.) I was trying to think of examples and thought perhaps Peter Temple’s ‘The Broken Shore’ would fit the bill.

    • March 10, 2013 5:28 pm

      Oh thanks Judith … I think it would go well in a bookgroup … it’s not a hard read but there are things to talk about in terms of relationships, ethics, communication, adaptation, etc – not to mention genre!

      I hope the interest goes beyond women as murder victim! I did hear another term for the male version of chick lit, and that’s, d*** lit! But perhaps lad lit is better in polite company. It’s encouraging, anyhow, to think there is an interest in the subject matter … I would have assumed that the crime books with romance in them were geared to female readers but sounds like that’s not totally so.

  5. March 10, 2013 11:09 pm

    I am really looking forward to reading this book. As a romance reader, I like it when we get to hear the heroes point of view. It is present most of the time, but there are some authors who like to only give one side or try writing in first person.

    • March 10, 2013 11:14 pm

      Oh good Marg … I look forward to hearing what you, with your reading background, thinks.

  6. March 11, 2013 6:29 pm

    I’m really intrigued by this book, have seen a few positive reviews around, and now you and Lisa both approve. Although seriously 94 minutes to clean the bathroom! I think that’s more saying OCD than autism. I seriously have never met any man who wanted to clean the bathroom so much that they scheduled it, or indeed would take anywhere near 94 minutes- the record for “cleaning” that I ever saw was a flatmate who would stand at the door of the bathroom and hurl buckets of water into it. This was how we discovered that the drain in the floor wasn’t actually connected to anything and so the water just went into the floor cavity and around the dodgy wiring so that we would all get tingles by turning the light on after he had “cleaned” the bathroom. One of the many joys of inner city share housing….

    • March 11, 2013 8:16 pm

      Thanks Louise .. yes OCD is another possibility. Don was never given a named condition because I think Simsion wanted to keep it general and unspecified. My understanding though is that OCD behaviours can be part of autism spectrum disorders and I suggested that’s what it was here because of the social ineptitude Don also exhibits. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it if you read it. (94 mins for a bathroom sounded a lot to me too!)

  7. March 12, 2013 3:30 am

    It does sound like it would make a good movie, potentially one of those sweet quirky films that both halves of a couple can enjoy.

  8. March 29, 2013 4:10 pm

    I’m saving this for a rainy day, so glad to see you enjoyed it Sue. It sounds reminiscent of Toni Jordan’s Addition, which also had an unusual protagonist.

    There was a good interview with Graeme Simsion on Radio National a while back you might like.

    • March 29, 2013 11:38 pm

      Oh nice to hear from you Sarah … it has some similarities with Addition and I nearly made that connection but I seemed to have so many other things to say that I decided not to. I’ll check out that interview. I think I may have caught the end of it as I got into the car – I always listed to Radio National when I drive – but then forgot to check the full interview out when I got home later.

  9. March 30, 2013 10:33 pm

    I am loving this book, the character of Don is very endearing as long as you don’t have to live with him. It is very funny and I didn’t want to pause to cook the dinner. Seriously considered cheese on toast so I could keep reading.

    • March 31, 2013 12:07 am

      There’s nothing wrong with cheese-on-toast for dinner I reckon … it’s a very readable book isn’t it? I know exactly what you mean about Don – I guess that’s the difference between romcom and life. In the former Love Conquers All while in the latter, not necessarily so!

  10. September 12, 2015 7:20 pm

    The Rosie Project and it’s sequel the Rosie Process consumed me for a month and I was almost standing on street corners recommending this book. It was a change of genre for me to as I usually read non-fiction and love philosophy and psychology. I would call myself a lover of people and it’s probably on this level that I was attracted to the book.
    I was also lucky enough to attend a dinner where Graeme Simpsion spoke. I read this book really as non-fiction and have met quite a few Don’s in my time. Actually, my Dad has the exact same yellow jacket as Don. My thinking was that Graeme knew a bit too much about being on the spectrum and although he concedes there’s a touch of Don in all of us, Don was based on his jogging mate. All the people I know who read it, knew at least one “Don”.
    There is much more to the character of Rosie than meets the eye and I recommend reading the Rosie Process and don’t skip through it. There are one to two sentences which change everything. Here’s a link to my post: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/how-to-make-it-as-an-author/
    This also includes a funny account of his first author talk in a one horse country town in South Australia.
    xx Rowena

    • September 12, 2015 7:31 pm

      Thanks Rowena … as you know I did enjoy your post on the author dinner-talk.

      Loved how he turned around the SA librarian’s suggestion that the attendees at his talk needn’t buy the book, they can just borrow it!

      You’ve intrigued me about the sequel and those couple of sentences re Rosie, but I have a feeling I won’t get to read it (though I’m sure I’d enjoy it). I have such a pile of books to read at present.

Trackbacks

  1. The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
  2. The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion | theaustralianlegend

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