REVIEW: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Dear Mr. Simsion:
Sarah Wendell talked this book up quite a bit on her podcast and then one morning I opened my Kindle and there the book was. Like magic. So of course I had to read it.
Don Tillman, a professor of genetics, has a difficult time interacting with people generally and women specifically. He hasn’t even made it to a second date. Early on he explains it is because some women are late, which he hates, or that they don’t really understand the pragmatic and obvious things in life. For instance, at the end of one date, the woman suggests she’d like apricot ice cream. Don insists that because all ice cream tastes essentially the same, owing to the chilling of the tastes buds, particularly fruit flavored ones. He suggests a taste test to prove his point. “But by the time the serving person had prepared them, and I turned to ask Elizabeth to close her eyes for the experiment, she had gone.”
Don decides that he wants to get married, though, and the best way to do this is to create a questionnaire and The Wife Project becomes his main focus. The reader knows that Don is autistic, on some level. He has a difficult time understanding and connecting to other individuals and recognizing the importance of social rituals.
He wants a woman who is punctual, doesn’t smoke, is logical. Like him. Enter Rosie Jarman who is a barmaid, late, drinks, smokes, and is on a quest to find out who her father is. Don becomes intrigued by The Father Project, as he dubs it, and then by Rosie herself.
The hardest part of the book was understanding how Don connects with Rosie. We’re told that he does and I found Rosie fun as a reader, but it was difficult to find consistency with Don “all ice creams are the same why are you leaving upset?” with Don “I don’t care that you violate every principle that I thought was important to me and I’ll change for you.” Essentially, as Don and Rosie begin to interact more, Don’s feelings for her begin to have an affect on his behavior. In some ways I felt like Rosie almost cured Don of his autism.
Hurtling back to town, in a red Porsche driven by a beautiful woman, with the song playing, I had the sense of standing on the brink of another world. I recognized the feeling, which, if anything, became stronger as the rain started falling and the convertible roof malfunctioned so we were unable to raise it. It was the same feeling that I had experienced looking over the city after the Balcony Meal, and again after Rosie had written down her phone number. Another world, another life, proximate but inaccessible.
As a romance reader, the romance was unconvincing despite the fact that I enjoyed both Don and Rosie individually. But I struggled with Don’s presentation. His ability to pick up on social cues depended on what the scene called for. If we were supposed to laugh, his social cue inference skill was low. If we were supposed to see him falling in love with Rosie, his social cue inference skill was high.
Juxtapose this passage, for instance:
“What’s your poison?” said Amghad.
“What do you want to drink?”
Of course. But why, why, why can’t people just say what they mean?’
I nodded in polite agreement. Bianca was exhibiting exactly the characteristics I was looking for. There was every chance she would be perfect. But for some reason, my instincts were rebelling.
In the taxi, Rosie said to me, “You should have practiced with different beats. You’re not as smart as I thought you were.”
I just looked out the window of the taxi.
Then she said, “No way. No fucking way. You did, didn’t you? That’s worse. You’d rather make a fool of yourself in front of everyone than tell her she didn’t float your boat.”
Even at the end, Don talks about falling in love which seems to be such an emotion based, rather than evidenced based statement. It was these obvious variances that made the book have a certain manipulative feel to it. But setting that aside, the story is cute and often quite humorous. And more importantly, it felt different than the books I’d be reading before.
I didn’t like The Father Project part of the book. I understood that it brought them together but it overtakes part of the story and has a fairly unsatisfactory ending but I chalked that up to being Literature. Literature books don’t like clean endings no matter if the entire book spends its time hurtling toward it
Don is the narrator of the entire book (no switching alternate points of view). As with any first person book, if a reader doesn’t respond to Don, the book is going to be an utter failure. . B-
I felt the same way about this book. I really liked both Don and Rosie, but I just don’t understand what they saw in each other at all. They were polar opposites and I just don’t see a relationship like theirs working out in the long run.
The thing that really bothered me, though, was how easy it was for Don to change after spending his entire life living in his structured world. No matter how good a therapist Claudia was (and there really wasn’t any evidence that she was good at all) there is no way he would have been able to change himself that quickly. His schedules were extremely important to him and I don’t understand how Simsion could expect us to believe that he could just erase them from his life the way he did the Standardized Menu. It is actually rather insulting to autistic people. The only thing that saved the ending for me was that Rosie didn’t immediately jump at the chance of marriage with the “New and Improved” Don because he wasn’t the Don that she fell in love with.
I think this was my problem with “Soulless” by Gail Carringer and to a lesser extent, Bones on “Bones.” I know the heroine in “Soulless” wasn’t autistic, but I felt like her lack of a soul popped in and out of her emotional/social interactions when it was convenient for the story. Same with Bones. sometimes she’s socially awkward, other times she’s very perceptive or sensitive. At least with Bones they’ve had a long time to show this as a character arc for her.
I listened to this one so my experience might be different because the medium was different. I really liked it. (The narrator was good, but not great).
In the end I decided that Don made friends/had relationships with the people who stuck around. The people who wrote him off and disappeared, well, Don didn’t have time to become comfortable with them. Once Don is comfortable with someone, he is 100% loyal, so, added with the sexual attraction he felt for Rosie, I didn’t have a problem with why he wanted to be with her. It was less clear why he suggested The Father Project in the first place – possibly merely because that sort of endeavour interests him and it was nothing to do with Rosie at all. That meant proximity and that meant Don had a chance to become comfortable.
As for why Rosie liked Don, well, I liked Don when I listened to the book so I didn’t have any trouble believing she would. Don is also very much a what you see is what you get person and I think Rosie appreciated that. Don is also (apparently) very good looking – Gregory Peck is HOT!! :D
The change of behaviour at the end was, I agree, less clear – although, there is a comment that weirdness is better accepted where they end up (trying to avoid spoilers) so maybe that helped. Perhaps it was just that Don was never motivated before? I’m no expert on autism spectrum – although I do know that social cues etc can be learned – I listened to a podcast about that very thing recently.
It wasn’t perfect, but I had a lot of fun with it and was prepared to overlook some things and go with it – but then, I tend to be more adventurous in audio for some reason.
I really enjoyed The Rosie Project and decided to buy it after listening to the DBSA podcast. I found it hard to put down and read it in a couple of days – very fast for me these days!
While I can understand some of Jane’s concerns about the book – I too wasn’t completely sold on the Bianca episode – overall I thought it was really good and a breath of fresh air while also being an enjoyable and interesting read.
I have to wonder if having a good friend with diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome (high-functioning autism) made the book and Don seem more real and believable for me. People with these conditions do operate on a spectrum and like those not considered autistic, they have day’s when they are more clued into those around them and days when they are less so. They are not without emotion at all but often don’t easily identify what they are feeling (like Don) or recognise those feelings in others. I agree with many of Kaetrin’s points – when there is motivation to learn these, often very academically intelligent people, apply themselves with great diligence! They do what they do eg use schedules etc because this makes logical sense and streamlines their lives, but this doesn’t mean they can’t change them when there is an equally logical reason to do so and having Rosie be part of his life ultimately gave Don sufficient logical reason to change, and I found that completely believable given my personal experience of someone similar.
I thought the author did a wonderful job of maintaining Don’s voice throughout the book and of making Don, who could have been hard to like and/or understand, very accessible. You warm to him and really want him to win. The author does makes his own job more challenging by writing in First. If we were able to see Don through Rosie’s eyes it would undoubtedly have been easier to understand why she liked him so much – even though as a reader I liked Don and agree that this makes it easy to understand why Rosie did too.
And on a side note, I actually thought the way that the Father Project concluded was great – exactly the outcome I’d been hoping for! :)
Guys, Don had a mild form of Aspergers Syndromeand I know the type. We just separated after 14 years. I am a psychiatric nurse. This book is a profile of a man I care about and cannot live with. He is a PhD scientist. I have several friends I have shared the book with as each of us has a variation on Don. PhD, scientist, brilliant, socially clueless. it is real.
Please try not to say “different than.” unless you are an American. The phrase “different from” works well as an antonym for “similar to”. The perfect “push, pull” structure
I loved this book, and could not put it down! While some may not understand the magnetic force between Don and Rosie, I completely understand it. My husband has many behaviours similar to Don’s, while I am much like Rosie. We have few interests in common, but we are interested in (and fascinated by!) one another. News flash: Opposites DO attract!
I’m surprised people are pointing out character inconsistencies. Seriously? People are complex. Throw unexpected/unfamiliar emotions and personalities at even the most stable person, and their responses are likely to be completely unpredictable. More importantly – people grow, and growth is full of inconsistent thoughts and responses…
BTW – I recently read an interview with the author, and he said (not quotes) Don’s character was based on people he knew (mostly from academic and IT backgrounds) – he did not build Don’s character based on autism research. In fact, he said he did very little research on autism and deliberately chose to not identify Don as autistic. I laughed all the way through the book, but the interview made me laugh too, since my husband is also an IT professional.
I loved loved loved the book however I am not certain who Rosie’s biological father was. Was it Phil all along or was it Gene? Or perhas Case. Can you PLEASE tell me as I really need to know.
Thank you so so much