The Rosie Project is a nice, feel-good farce, and a perfect foil to the dark humour of my last book, Blueprints for a Barbed-wire Canoe. Winner of the Premier’s Literary Award for best unpublished fiction manuscript, and apparently with rights sold all over the place, The Rosie Project is a rom-com probably destined for best-sellerdom and countless book groups.
(It made me wonder: if this were written by a woman, about a woman, it would be labelled chick-lit. Is that what we call it when it’s a rom-com written by a man, about a man’s quest for love? Hmmm.)
Anyway, it’s reminiscent of Toni Jordan’s debut novel Addition which also featured a character with … um … an ‘unusual’ personality. In Addition Grace seems to have an obsessive compulsive disorder: she counts everything. But, hey, she finds love anyway. And in The Rosie Project so does Don Tillman, professor of genetics, despite an unusual cluster of eccentric behaviours ranging from ones which get him upgraded on airline flights so that other passengers don’t have to put up with him, to others which, oh dear, remind me of students along the autism spectrum.
It’s Don who narrates the story but we get the picture. He’s reasonably self-aware in an awkwardly intellectual way but it’s quite clear that he lacks social graces. He is puzzled by human emotion, and as people along the autism spectrum tend to do, he makes his decisions and interprets the world only through rational reasoning. That logic shows him that the rest of the world operates differently but he gets by with intensive tutoring from his only friends: the uber-randy Gene whose project is to screw his way around the world map – and Gene’s long-suffering wife Claudia, a psychologist in need of some intensive therapy herself.
Don’s never had a second date and he finds physical contact stressful but he’s keen to find love, and so he devises a questionnaire to find the perfect woman. Rosie, who blunders into his life with a poignant project of her own, comprehensively fails the test, but – yes, you guessed it, Don finds himself attracted to her anyway.
It’s good fun, and amusing. I admit that I don’t feel all that confident about the long-term prospects of the relationship that ensues, because (as every parent of an adolescent male undergoing the grunt phase knows) it can be very wearying taking responsibility for interpreting the emotional needs of someone who can’t express it himself, but hey, women will take on all kinds of blokes when the magnetic attraction strikes.
Other reviews are at the SMH.
Fishpond: The Rosie Project