REVIEW: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
Dear Mr. Simsion:
I read and very much enjoyed The Rosie Project last year (I gave it a B+ and liked it somewhat better than Jane did . At first I was excited to discover that there was a sequel, but then I seem to remember hearing or reading somewhere that the consensus was that The Rosie Effect wasn’t as good as the first book. That probably explains why it took me a while to read it. When I did get around to it, I was pleasantly surprised.
Don Tillman is living in New York with his wife Rosie; he’s a visiting professor at Columbia, and she is working on finishing her medical degree. One day Rosie abruptly announces that she’s pregnant, an unexpected development that throws Don into a tizzy. In short order, he has vacated their apartment for one that serves as a brewery for an aging rock star (who lives, and practices, upstairs), invited his friend Gene to stay with them without Rosie’s prior approval, and gotten himself arrested at a playground as a suspected pedophile.
It’s hard to distill the plot of The Rosie Effect beyond: Rosie gets pregnant and Don and Rosie’s marriage is jeopardized as a result. It’s not that the plot is episodic, exactly; there are continuing threads that are satisfyingly tied up in the end. It’s more that Don careens from one zany situation to another (which is intentionally ironic, I guess, given Don’s penchant for order); explaining each adventure would take too long, probably spoil the book and still not make much sense. Still, I’ll try to give an overview:
Don has difficulty dealing with Rosie’s pregnancy, both because he has doubts about his ability to parent and because he seems to be continually encountering people who further undermine any confidence he has on the matter. (For those unfamiliar with the first book, Don has a very literal, controlled and logical personality; he’s often suspected or accused of being on the autism spectrum, though he has no formal diagnosis.) He deals with his anxiety in the way he knows best: by trying to control and quantify the experience. The control part chiefly involves Rosie, and ends up being one of the things that drives a wedge between them: between her med school anxieties and pregnancy stress Rosie becomes increasingly bothered by Don’s prohibitions on what she can eat and drink. Plus, she has her own concerns about what kind of father he’ll be, and all that fear dredges up her own daddy issues, which were dealt with in The Rosie Project.
Don’s friend Dave and his wife Sonia are expecting their first child as well, and their marriage doesn’t appear to be handling the strain all that well either. Sonia is a no-nonsense accountant, and Dave is a struggling contractor whose money woes cause him to overeat, neglect Sonia and seemingly ignore the impending blessed event.
Gene, who was once Don’s only friend (when he lived in Australia) has been kicked out by his wife after years of womanizing. Don is concerned (maybe excessively so; there seems to be some transference going on there) with repairing Gene’s marriage, even after both Gene and his wife tell Don that it’s definitely over. Gene tries to help Don with Rosie, but he has his own fraught relationship with Rosie and he’s not exactly the expert on women he imagines himself to be. (Though to be fair he does manage to give some good advice here and there, especially later in the book.)
Don’s new friend and landlord, the beer enthusiast and washed up minor rock star George, seems fairly content in his life, but he’s in a rut – he and his bandmates play cruise ships and the rest of the time he hangs around his posh apartment and drinks his fancy beer. He has a big regret, though, about his estrangement from one of his children, and Don ends up trying to help there.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book: much more than I can recall in The Rosie Project, we see Don very involved in others’ lives, attempting to help (with mixed results). Sure, he’s still socially awkward and downright eccentric in a lot of his encounters, but for the people who take the time to know and understand him, Don’s an extremely loyal friend. His friends seem to accept him, quirks and all. Even characters who early in the book come off as very abrasive end up coming around, and I kind of liked that – in a very real way, The Rosie Effect is a feel-good book with an optimistic view of human nature.
Probably the least sympathetic character this time around was Rosie, which may be a function of the fact that Don was alienated from her for much of the book and the book is told from Don’s perspective. Not that Rosie comes off as a villain; I seem to remember she irritated me here and there in The Rosie Project as well, but again, we are seeing her from Don’s POV and their personalities are so different. At times her impulsiveness and stubbornness combined to make her seem clueless (she has some idea that she’ll just take the baby on medical rounds or something and thus lose no time in her schooling plans after she gives birth). Still, one of the things I liked was that because they are so different, Don and Rosie are kind of in the same boat in terms of dealing with each other. Each has to work a little harder to understand the other, but their willingness to do so (even if there are lapses in that willingness at times) is what makes their romance romantic.
Again, I’m pretty sure I heard from one or more sources who’d liked The Rosie Project that they found The Rosie Effect disappointing. When I look back on my write-up of the first book, I note that though I ended up giving it a B+, at first I was a little shaky on the broad humor of the book, particularly as it related to a hero who appeared to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. I think it was easier for me to get into The Rosie Effect right away because I was expecting just that – broad humor that was sometimes at Don’s expense – and so it didn’t bother me (in fact I frequently found it funny). In looking at some of the negative reviews on Amazon (something I will do sometimes to get an idea of whether other readers were bothered by the same things I was, or why some people hated a book I loved/loved a book I hated), a number of readers mentioned the slapstick, broad humor and wacky situations Don gets himself into as reasons for being disappointed in the sequel. But I really did not see The Rosie Effect as being substantially different in tone or structure from The Rosie Project. It was kind of more of the same, and I liked that. Thus I ended up giving The Rosie Effect the same grade I gave the first book: a B+.
I thoroughly enjoyed both books and agree with you about Rosie. Most people, at some point in a relationship, look over at a partner and wonder what they were thinking and how did they get there. Rosie, imo, never gave Don a chance to rise to the occasion, or even to wrap his considerable brain around this unexpected aspect of their lives. I get that she was stressed and worried about everything–rightfully so–but empathy for him seemed to be thin on the ground.
@Darlynne: I came to the conclusion that Rosie was as limited in her way as Don was in his. Her response to stress and fear was to tear everything down and bolt. It probably makes an HEA shaky, if you think about it too hard, so I won’t. I actually kind of appreciated realizing that it wasn’t always Don and his personality who were going to be the problems in a relationship. Both of them had stuff to work on.
Thanks for your thoughtful review(s). FWIW, I’ve had an interesting mix of feedback on The Rosie Effect. Some like it way better: typically people who don’t read romance / romcom. Given that most readers come via being attracted to the first book, I may be missing a whole cohort of readers who wouldn’t pick up The Rosie Project in the first place. The Aspergers / autism community seem to like both equally: I’ve had a few women married to aspies who empathise with Rosie’s behaviour.
@Graeme Simsion: Oh, I should be clear; anything I heard about people liking the first book better is a pretty small and anecdotal sample. I just think I’m out of step with those who felt the second book was different from the first in tone or structure. I was able to get into The Rosie Effect much quicker because I already knew and liked the characters, so though I gave them the same grade, I would say I like the second book a bit better.
I’m so glad you reviewed this book! I thoroughly enjoyed both books too, mainly because of Don’s narration. He appears to be clueless but often ends up giving us wow moments (e.g. when he plays with the baby in the Lesbian Mothers Project). I hope the author continues to tell us Don and Rosie’s story.
@Jo: I would love another book about Don and Rosie, as well.