6 June 2014
THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion
Pardon my pun but I must have a funny sense of humour. You see, it takes an awful lot to make me laugh – or perhaps I should say it takes something different. My apologies to Michael McIntyre and his crew but I can sit through a whole programme of Live At The Apollo without so much as a snigger. I suspect that this is because most humour is directed at someone else’s misfortune. We laugh at it to express how thankful we are it didn’t happen to us. Eg. a man runs after a bus and in his anxiety to get on board, trips and falls flat on his face. Seen on television, this tends to be viewed as comedy. I tend to view it as tragedy and in fact the two are never far apart.
Perhaps that’s why I didn’t laugh at THE ROSIE PROJECT, despite the fact that it’s billed as a romantic comedy. The main character, Don Tillman, is a highly intelligent and successful geneticist but he suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. That means he’s socially dysfunctional and although he’s a handsome thirty-nine year old, he’s never had a second date. So he devises The Wife Project, a scientific test to find the perfect partner. Enter Rosie, ‘the world’s most incompatible woman’, throwing Don’s safe, ordered life into chaos. I can see why most people would find that premise funny. But Asperger’s Syndrome is no joke for those who have it and reading Graeme Simsion’s book can be unsettling when one begins to recognise certain character traits in oneself. I can’t speak for women (or daren’t) but I suspect that many of us men suffer from it to some degree. That’s our tragedy – and maybe that’s why I didn’t laugh.
Nor am I a great romantic. DLW (my Dear Lady Wife) will vouch for that. For some time now she’s been asking me to install a water butt in the garden. She has a birthday coming up. Quite frankly, I’m stuck for an idea as to a present and I could very easily put two and two together and get myself into an awful lot of trouble. Don Tillman wouldn’t think twice about it and would see it as the obvious answer to the problem. You may find that amusing – I think it’s tragic. At least I can see why. Don can’t.
But don’t get me wrong - THE ROSIE PROJECT is an extremely funny book. It must be, lots of well-regarded people have said so on the cover and it’s my particular sense of humour that’s at fault. So why did I decide to read it? Well firstly DLW recommended it and she has very good taste in books (and no, I’m not trying to redeem myself here). Secondly, as I said the other week, I’m trying to be more eclectic with my reading and this is an opportunity to enhance my romantic fiction credentials. That makes me sound resentful but I did actually enjoy it. I can tell when I’m not enjoying a book as I start to skim read (life’s too short) and I certainly didn’t skim read this.
I already knew the ending however before I began reading. This is romantic comedy remember, where boy and girl always get together. The question is invariably, how? The premise (Asperger’s Syndrome and social dysfunction etc.) is compelling and provides lots of potentially comic moments but that’s an idea rather than a plot. The book needs an underlying story to give it narrative drive and here it comes in the form of a search for the identity of Rosie’s father (‘The Rosie Project’ of the title). This is of course a contrivance to enable Don and Rosie to continue to interact and bears no real relevance to their relationship. But if I tell you who Rosie’s real father is now it will spoil your enjoyment of the book even though it doesn’t seem to matter in the end. I often struggled to keep up with who was in and who was out in that regard, especially if I hadn’t been reading for a day or so, but it’s Don and Rosie we’re really interested in.
In the beginning, I also had a problem with the prose style. In places, Mr Simsion’s sentences are very clipped and factual, something I found incredibly annoying when I’m looking for words that flow nicely across the page. I can understand why he chooses to do this in as much as the book is written in the first person and that’s probably the way people with Asperger’s Syndrome think. I soon found myself saying, ok, I’ve got the message, can we please get back to something more conventional, but as I got used to Don’s character and thought process, I came to accept his way of expressing himself.
Does Don change? Allegedly yes, and for the purpose of the book we can believe that. Whether real-life people with Asperger’s are capable of making that kind of adjustment is an entirely different question and beyond the scope of what we’re dealing with here - this is a romantic comedy, remember. It’s funny (so they tell me) and it’s romantic. What more could you possibly want? Read it and find out.