The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is the story of Don Tillman’s quest for love. Problem is, he’s got pretty high standards. In fact, he’s compiled a 16 page questionnaire for all his potential partners to complete. After all, what’s the point in getting to know someone unless they’re Future Wife?
A professor in genetics at a Melbourne university, Don has a highly methodical approach to life, his entire routine scheduled to the minute. Enter Rosie – unpredictable and disorganised she’s a drinker, a smoker a vegetarian and a barmaid. There’s no logical reason why Don should be attracted to her – she’s entirely unsuitable. But as an expert in genetics, he might be able to help her find her real father.
The Rosie Project is a sparkling, little book. I don’t know if that’s an appropriate adjective to use in relation to a book, but that’s just how I would describe it. It’s a gorgeous, character-driven story that really comes alive as you read, boy-meets-girl in an unconventional way. We realise quite quickly that the protagonist, Don, has a mild form of autism – something he doesn’t recognise himself. This makes him a brilliant comic narrator, but it also gives him a very honest way of seeing the world because the odd nuances and pretensions of socialising are completely lost on him. Autism and Asperger’s are quite widespread in the Australian community, but characters on the Autism spectrum rarely enter the domain of popular culture. It was nice to see a story that deals with these issues in a tender and light-hearted way. Despite his eccentricity, Don is a very likeable character and his story is extremely readable
The Rosie Project is about recognising and coming to terms with difference within ourselves. Initially, Don seeks companionship with a person who is exactly like him – rationally speaking that seems to be the most logical path. But human compatibility and attraction aren’t easily gauged. In the end, it’s more about finding a person who accepts you – who embraces you and recognises that the great things about you outweigh your flaws.
It’s also about learning there is no ‘right’ way to love someone. Rom Coms, in their infinite wisdom, teach us that true love is simple. Pretty girl meets handsome boy. They have a bit of witty banter, run around in the rain and stare lovingly at each other. Inevitably, there’s a road-block their grand romance. But this can be quickly solved by a public romantic gesture. Then it’s happily ever after. Easy.
Don’s difficulty is he doesn’t connect with people in a way they expect. There’s one scene where, desperate to be a person Rosie could love, Don watches a whole list of her favourite romantic movies. But he simply can’t relate to anything he sees, or empathise with any of the characters on the screen. For me, it was a very poignant reminder that we don’t all form bonds in the same way. Or at least, not in the way we’re told we should. Human beings are a lot more complex than that.
“An inability (or reduced ability) to empathise is not the same as an inability to love. Love is a powerful feeling for another person, often defying logic.”