Author: Graeme Simsion
Finished on: 29 January 2017
Where did I get this book: My second book club read
The trouble with book clubs (unless it’s one you run/ write yourself) is that you have to read other people’s book choices. And when you have a TBR pile that has taken over your entire home, the additional commitment of a book a month (particularly one you wouldn’t normally give the time of day) can seem like a pain.
I don’t read much romantic fiction. Those of you who have read this blog for a while, or who know me, will be aware that, to me, good literary love is less boy meets girl, more boy digs up girl’s 20 year-old coffin to embrace her rotting corpse.
Now I loved Friends as much as anyone, but I must admit that I saw the lobster on the front cover of this book, read the blurb, and wasn’t expecting it to be my cup of tea.
The Rosie Project tells the tale of Don Tillman, a man with Asperger’s who is looking for a wife. In order to avoid the enormous waste of time and effort involved in ‘normal’ dating, Don designs a questionnaire for women to complete, so he can find his ideal mate. The questionnaire is as successful as you would expect. All in all, most elements of the book are predictable. It is full of stand-alone set piece scenes that feel contrived. Several of the characters are ridiculous clichés. The story doesn’t feel real. Or even believable.
But the truth is that this book is brilliant. It was such an enjoyable read that I couldn’t put it down. Don has a strong, endearing, and genuinely hilarious voice. By about halfway through, I found myself falling a little bit in love with him. Where The Bridge‘s Saga Norén has forged a path for gorgeous, lovable characters with Asperger’s, Don Tillman follows. But without any corpses severed in half in this instance.
The last book club read was Elizabeth Is Missing, and there are definite parallels here in a story told by an unusual and engaging first person narrator. But also in that the most successful parts of the book are some of the least dramatic. When you’re reading such an interesting voice, it seems the most entertaining thing for them to do is interact with the world at a fairly mundane level. I loved Don’s meal planning for example. And his serious contemplation of finding a lecturing job in a different time zone that he could do via Skype, in order to live nocturnally and avoid any unwelcome human interaction.
Based on the little I know of Asperger’s, Simsion does present us with a sugar-coated and pretty one-dimensional version of the condition. Don is a hero that almost certainly couldn’t exist outside of the pages of a book. But who cares. When we’re inside these pages, he is superb company. (In this respect at least maybe he is more like Heathcliff than I initially gave him credit for).
This is a thoroughly entertaining, lovely book. I have been getting cocky about my ability to successfully judge a book by its cover. But in this case I was wrong.
Jean-Paul Sartre (sort of) said “hell is other people” (a sentiment I expect Don would wholeheartedly agree with) but it turns out that hell is not other people’s book choices after all.