Longer review: I have a strange history with this novel. I first became aware of it from Billie Bloebaum, who told me back in August to go apply for a NetGalley copy because she knew I'd love it after my rage-review of Big Girl Panties:
I just finished ‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion, which … addresses a lot of similar issues regarding pre-conceived notions and stereotypes and assumptions and snap judgments, but handles them really, really wonderfully. It’s very likely that you’ve already had this book recommended to you by many, many people since it’s been getting a lot of buzz and was apparently kind of a big deal in Australia. Read it, if you haven’t already. It’ll make you feel better. I promise.
Off I went to NetGalley to request a copy, and to set a calendar reminder because Oh my GOD this book doesn't come out until OCTOBER. I'm sure the equivalent to the population of Norway and Australia both applied for an e-galley.
This is one of the few times I remember being impatient about a Net Galley request not being approved – which is rare for me – because I kept hearing about this book, and I couldn't get a copy. I wanted to read this book SO bad.
Sound familiar, anyone outside the US?
The Rosie Project was released in Australia in January 2013. It's being released here in the States after being an Australian bestseller, and after being translated into nearly 30 languages and optioned by Sony pictures. Australia, you can go ahead and savor the fact that you had this book for months before we got it. It's only fair. I'll wait here.
Ok now? No?
Done savoring? Yeah? Ok- wait you're not done? Alright.
Ok, everyone have a Tim Tam and a grin because you have earned them both.
I got my own copy at Dymock's in Melbourne, a gift from a lovely person, and carried the paperback with me all over Australia.
Then, I met the author, Graeme Simsion, at the Brisbane Writers' Festival. I asked him to sign my copy (which he did, noting that I had the Australian version with “lifts” instead of “elevators” in the text).
Then he did a brief podcast interview with me, telling me some of the compliments the book had received. One of the compliments he heard most often was that people read it in one sitting.
He's right about that. It was on my 8 hour flight to JFK that I read the book in one sitting. If I hadn't been flying, I'd have been annoyed that I couldn't read it in one long session. I didn't even want to get up to use the restroom. I sat and read and read and read – it was glorious.
The Rosie Project is so charming, so funny, and so touching. If you like The Big Bang Theory, you'll probably like this book. If you like emotionally touching stories with humor and happy endings, you'll like it, too.
Don Tillman is a professor of genetics at a university who follows a very regimented schedule, has calculated every step in his life, and thinks he's reasonably happy though he is aware that he doesn't fit in and is very awkward and confusing to people. He decides that the best way to find a wife, as he's decided he would like to be married, is to create a survey that will identify or eliminate those who do or do not meet what he thinks are his specifications.
He meets the Rosie of the title (I wanted to call her “titular Rosie” but I just…could not) when she appears in his office doorway and he assumes she's been sent over by Gene as a potential candidate for The Wife Project. Don realizes very quickly that Rosie is absolutely the least suitable candidate, but he's fascinated by her, and begins making small changes in his life to keep her in his life, albeit tangentially. Rosie is looking for her biological father, and Don's work as a geneticist and his access to a lab can help her: they can collect samples from the likely candidates and test them against Rosie's DNA.
Don narrates the book – the entirety is told in the first person, and his narration is so interesting. He's confused by emotions, he's aware of his very high intellect and intelligence, and he's aware that he is different and doesn't easily fit in most areas of society. Rosie isn't the easiest person to fit into varying social situations either, but she rejects society and rules out of rebellion, not confusion. She's a bit prickly, is Rosie.
Don is the more fully developed of the two characters, though the reader learns a great deal about Rosie as her genetic mystery is unraveled. This makes sense, as the story is told from his point of view. His narration inspires a great deal of empathy, too – even when he's talking about his own perceived lack of capacity for empathy.
When he's asked by his best friend and boss, Gene, to give a lecture on Gene's behalf on Asperger's syndrome, Don does a ton of last minute research and then gives a credible and inspiring lecture to a hall full of children with Asperger's and their parents. Don does not recognize himself in the research nor in the descriptions he uses in his presentation – a theme that repeats itself in this book. Few people recognize themselves when it's truly important until it's nearly too late.
The Rosie Project is about recognizing yourself, and valuing who you are, while also recognizing your capability to change when necessary. Don is convinced he is not lovable, and not morosely so. He has arrived at the conclusion rationally, and without a great deal of emotion. One of the things Don learns is that he is lovable, he is worthy of friendships and happiness, though he might have to change his rules a bit to make that happen. He also has to learn to appreciate Rosie, and allow himself to be appreciated for who he is.
The Rosie Project made me laugh and sniffle, and I found myself grabbing a pen and marking passages in the book to share with you.
Here is Don talking about himself and other people in his dry, factual but insightful manner. Don has a surprising ability to make friends, though he doesn't appreciate that he does, and thinks he is largely without people in his life. In one early scene he is counting up his friends, of which there are four total. Two are deceased; one of the deceased, Daphne, was his former upstairs neighbor:
The second friend was Daphne, whose friendship period also overlapped with Gene and Claudia's. She moved into the apartment above mine after her husband entered a nursing home, as a result of dementia. Due to knee failure, exacerbated by obesity, she was unable to walk more than a few steps,but she was highly intelligent and I began to visit her regularly. She had no formal qualifications, having performed a traditional female homemaker role. I considered this to be an extreme waste of talent — particularly as her descendants did not return the care. She was curious about my work, and we initiated the Teach Daphne Genetics Project, which was fascinating for both of us.
This line in particular got to me:
I considered this to be an extreme waste of talent — particularly as her descendants did not return the care.
Such a short but emotionally powerful summary of Daphne's life: intelligent, talented, and not cared for as she should be, in Don's opinion, by the family she raised.
Later, Don is talking to Rosie, trying desperately not to commit a grievous social error and drive her away:
“Don, can I ask you something?”
“Do you find me attractive?”
Gene told me the next day that I got it wrong. But he was not in a taxi, after an evening of total sensory overload, with the most beautiful woman in the world. I wanted Rosie to like me, and I remembered her passionate statement about men treating women as objects. She was testing to see if I saw her as an object or as a person. Obviously the correct answer was the latter.
“I haven't really noticed,” I told the most beautiful woman in the world.
If you're looking for something a bit different in contemporary romance, with a unique perspective and a fascinating set of characters, you will like this book. I di., I liked it so, so much – and I've been waiting until today to tell you about it – well, not entirely successfully, as I've talked about it twice in the podcast. The Rosie Project is available today, and I hope you'll buy or borrow (or request) a copy.