Ever pictured Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory as ten years older, living in Melbourne and working as a genetics professor? I’m pretty sure that’s what Graeme Simsion did when he wrote The Rosie Project: A Novel.
If you love Sheldon you’ll love Professor Don Tillman’s unintentionally hilarious observations of life as he attempts to source himself a wife. Having abandoned “the traditional dating paradigm… on the basis that the probability of success did not justify the effort and negative experiences”, Don embarks on the Wife Project using online dating and a 16-page questionnaire, for which he “followed best practice in questionnaire design, including multiple-choice questions, Likert scales, cross-validation, dummy questions and surrogates.”
Don’s best friend, Gene, and his wife, Claudia, attempt to steer him into more socially acceptable courses of action. However, Gene has a Project of his own which would appear to render him somewhat unsuitable to advise Don on the Wife Project:
Gene has a project to have sex with women of as many different nationalities as possible. As a professor of psychology, he is extremely interested in human sexual attraction, which he believes is largely genetically determined.
The question of does Don/doesn’t Don have Asperger’s pops up throughout the novel. Gene’s long-suffering wife, Claudia, gently attempts to broach the subject with Don after he delivers a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome:
Claudia asked whether I had enjoyed the Asperger’s lecture. She was under the impression that Gene had delivered the lecture and I had merely attended. I corrected her mistake and told her I found the subject fascinating.
“Did the symptoms remind you of anyone?” she asked.
They certainly did. They were an almost perfect description of Laszlo Hevesi in the Physics Department.
It is through Gene’s interference in the Wife Project that Don meets Rosie, an unwitting candidate for the Project, who he almost immediately fails based on his questionnaire:
…the lack of cooking skills on her part was the third fault so far in terms of the Wife Project questionnaire, after the late arrival and the lack of fitness. There was almost certainly a fourth: it was unlikely that her profession as waitress and barmaid was consistent with the specified intellectual level. There was no point in continuing.
However, after their first date, (during which Rosie’s tough talking helps Don avoid arrest after he crash tackles restaurant security over a question of dress code), he finds himself irrationally drawn to her for reasons he cannot fathom. Don decides to help Rosie with the Father Project, going to great lengths to help her find her biological father through covert genetic testing of every male in her mother’s med school graduation class.
Through a myriad of touching, frustrating and very funny fits, starts and misunderstandings on both sides, their relationship develops and they discover that they both have a lot to learn about love.
I loved this book, it had everything I look for: beautifully written with a great story, it made me laugh and love the characters while wanting to smack them round the head a little for being so stubborn and blind. As a graduate of Melbourne Uni it also had the “Oooh, I’ve been there!” factor, right down to the drinking hole hierarchy:
We went to Jimmy Watson’s on Lygon Street, a short walk away, and as usual, even on a weekend, it was full of academics.
The Rosie Project is also great escapism after a full day with toddlers. Gene and Claudia do have a couple of kids but Don doesn’t really take much notice of them other than as a source of irritation:
I tried to introduce the Wife Project but Claudia was engaged in child-related activities. This was becoming frustrating. I booked dinner for Saturday night and asked them not to schedule any other conversation topics.