The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison
Penguin, April 2013
E-book, 304 pages
Review copy from Netgalley
You, me and everyone we know heard a lot about this Australian debut last year. It went buzzing around the blogs, with lots of positive reviews from reviewers I trust. The paperback came out earlier this month and it seemed to be everywhere all over again; Waterstones have chosen it for their bookclub and stacked it high in my local store. So when I spotted it on Netgalley I thought I would take a punt, even though I had a niggling suspiscion that it wasn't going to be 100% for me. My instinct was both right and wrong.
I thoroughly enjoyed racing through it - it's the first book I've read in a day in quite some time - and I smiled often and giggled several times and once laughed out loud (the Jacket Incident, for anyone who has read it). I immediately warmed to Don Tillman, the genetics professor with Aspergers on the cusp of 40 whose life is efficiently segmented and timed to the second; and to his only two friends, Gene, the aging lothario 'collecting' women from around the world, and his suffering psychiatrist wife Claudia. The writing was accomplished and swift, the narrative voice insightful and tender.
But I found the story that Simison built from and around these good things entirely predictable and disappointing. When Don embarks on his 'Wife Project' to identify a woman to spend the rest of his life with, designing a huge questionnaire to establish compatability - 'Do you eat kidneys?' Correct answer: Sometimes - it's blatantly obvious what will happen next. A PhD student called Rosie walks into his office and immediately disrupts his careful life with her chaotic attitude. She fails the Wife Project questionnaire on every single question and the writing is on the wall. She will turn out to be troubled (in a rather limp sort of way); the plot will throw them together (Don undertakes to help her search for her biological father); their mutal attraction will be obvious to everyone except each other.
Having met, Don and Rosie move through the book more like actors in a romantic comedy than realised individuals on their own trajectories. You can't imagine a book about one or other in isolation. Simison originally wrote the story as a screenplay before adapting it into a novel, and it shows very clearly. You can visualise the scenes as they unfold: how they would be shot, how the set piece dialogues would be delivered. I could cast it right now. Carey Mulligan as Rosie, Hugh Jackman as Don, Cate Blanchett as Claudia, Colin Firth as Gene. I can even guess which bits would be in the trailer. I'd enjoy watching it on a Saturday night with a bottle of wine and a vat of popcorn. Since the book was optioned within about 25 seconds of publication (or probably even before) I'm sure I'll do just that.
Quite a bit has been said about The Rosie Project's depiction of Aspergers, and the positive portrayal of Don as a romantic lead. Personally I thought he was a pretty standard, stereotyped portrait of someone on the spectrum, and that the book did very little to expand my insight or understanding. I thought the 2009 film Adam gave a far more complex and nuanced view of what it is like to have a relationship with someone who views the world so differently.