The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman may be a genius when it comes to science and genetics, or anything else he decides to study, but he's clueless about two things: women and his Asperger's Syndrome. Despite this, he's determined to find himself a wife in the only way he knows how to do anything - like a scientist. However, there's no scientific way to chart the course of true love, but that's not going to stop Don from trying.
Touted as the "feel good" book of 2013, this book intrigued me even before it hit the shelves. Unfortunately, the publishers decided I wasn't the best type of reviewer to send an advance copy to, so I had to wait until after its publication, so I could buy it for myself. The question is, was it worth it?
The short answer to that is yes, since I really enjoyed this novel. Simsion easily gets into the head of Tillman, with as much ease as Mark Haddon got into the head of his protagonist Christopher in his novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime." Of course, many will be drawing parallels between these two novels, since there are many to be drawn. Both have protagonists who have Asperger's and both are trying to achieve something and the way to do that will challenge them because of their condition. To reach their goals, they also have to go through no small amount of self-discovery, and despite their age differences, essentially both are coming-of-age stories.
However, the big difference is that Haddon's book was a mystery, and Simsion's book is a comedy. While some might say that coping with a social disorder is no laughing matter, Simsion seems to have found Don in a place in his life where, despite his not knowing his actual condition, he has accepted the fact that he is different, and embraces how his brain is wired. In fact, he's committed to being this way. Well, at least that's how it starts out. When Rosie enters his life, he suddenly starts questioning almost every aspect of his life, but in a scientific way, with some funny and often poignant results.
What impressed me the most about this novel was how it felt like a book from a well-seasoned writer, and not someone who (I later found out in the afterward) came from the Hi-Tech world, moved to screenwriting and then took his script and turned it into a novel. Simsion has a wonderful ear for dialog, which is essential for a screenwriter. However, the advantage of the format of fiction over a screenplay is that we can read the goings on in the characters heads. Since Simsion writes this story in first person from Don's point of view, we mainly investigate his unusually wired brain. And what a fascinating brain it is, and all the more so because - unlike Christopher of Haddon's novel - Don actually realizes that he can change in certain respects. This means that we get to see Don's character develop throughout the course of the book, and that is what makes a particularly good character-driven novel.
As for the "feel good" part of the book, Simsion uses a basic Rom-com plot - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. If we understand this from the outset, of course we're going to expect an ending that will make us smile. In this, Simsion doesn't disappoint, except for the ending feeling just a bit too rushed for my taste, but I certainly was grinning when I turned the last page. I would like to note that this is one book readers should not immediately close at the conclusion. If you do, you'll miss the "bonus" materials Simsion has added after the acknowledgements. These extra bits just cap everything beautifully, and I'm glad they were included. That said, I have to reiterate my initial conclusion noted above; this book was certainly worth the money I paid for it. It is a fun read with an interesting protagonist and a compelling story. I'm highly recommending it and giving it a strong four and a half stars out of five.
"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion published by Penguin (April 11, 2013) is available on Kindle from Amazon, Nook from Barnes & Noble, as an iBook or audiobook from iTunes, in paperback from The Book Depository, or from an IndieBound store near you.