I was absolutely convinced that Graeme Simsion’s book The Rosie Project was not for me. I’d read about it in the press, I’d even noted some excellent reviews on blogs whose authors I truly respect, but still I was certain this wasn’t a novel that was going anywhere near my tbr pile. So why I picked it up as I walked through the library I can’t even begin to explain. But there it was, sandwiched in-between the two books I’d actually gone to collect and checked out on the automatic lending machine before I was even aware what I was doing. Never mind, it wouldn’t be the first book I’d taken back to the library unread, although I ought to get round to doing that reasonably quickly because I’m sure there are borrowers out there who really do want to read it.
Three chapters in I still didn’t think I was going to read this book. I didn’t actually know why I’d picked it up off my shelf and got as far as the first twenty-six pages. How did that happen? Was I actually expected to believe in the main character, Don? As any of my friends will tell you I am on the very low end of the Asperger’s spectrum myself. Not enough to really get in the way but securely enough to understand how it works and I was finding it very hard to credit that someone so much further along that self-same spectrum would ever have been employed at a University. And yes, I do know that some very interesting types manage to get through the interview process – I’ve worked with some of them – but Don seemed – well – a little too interesting.
I actually got as far as putting the book on the pile by the front door, where library returns are stacked so that in theory I won’t forget to pick them up on my way out. It was plainly destined to be a DNF. So, will someone please explain to me why it was that I suddenly decided to give the book another chance and then, for the first time in ages, actually sat up late into the night because I couldn’t possibly go to bed until I’d finished it?
Perhaps there is no answer to that question. Perhaps the chemistry that happens between a reader and a book is as inexplicable as that which occurs between two human beings. Certainly it isn’t a question whose answer is likely to be discovered through the use of a questionnaire, in the same way that Don’s quest for a wife who quite literally ticks all the right boxes is pretty much doomed to failure even before Rosie comes along. Just as Don is looking for a wife Rosie is looking for a father. Not just any father, like Don, it has to be a precise individual, in her case, her biological father. Rosie’s mother has died after confiding in her daughter that her husband, Phil, is not the man in question but without revealing the name of the man who is. While Don is certain that Rosie doesn’t fit the bill where his Wife Project is concerned, as a geneticist he is intrigued by The Father Project and so abandons his tidily (some might say obsessively) drawn up schedule to help her discover which of the delegates at a certain long ago conference was responsible for her existence. Abandoning one’s schedule is never a good idea where those of us with Asperger’s are concerned. Our schedules are what enables us to deal with those aspects of the world around us that we don’t really understand. Let that schedule go and chaos ensues, which is precisely what happens here.
Chaos in a novel can be turned to humorous purposes and that is certainly the case in The Rosie Project. However, that humour is also tinged with pain because like so many people with Asperger’s Don is intelligent enough to recognise the problems he has with social interaction; or rather he recognises that he has problems without comprehending the problems themselves. Here he and Rosie are discussing the promiscuous behaviour of a mutual married friend.
‘If I find a partner, which seems increasingly unlikely, I wouldn’t want a sexual relationship with anyone else. But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact. ‘Ahhh… The testicles of drone bees and wasps spiders explode during sex.’
It was annoying that the first thing that occurred to me was related to sex. As a psychology graduate, Rosie may have made some sort of Freudian interpretation. But she looked at me and shook her head. Then she laughed. ‘I can’t afford to go to New York. But you’re not safe by yourself.’
And perhaps, epitomised in that quote, is the reason that finally I enjoyed this book so much because Simsion captures precisely the dilemma of knowing that all is not quite right but not being able to put your finger on precisely what is going wrong. Everyone experiences that feeling occasionally but some people have to live with it on pretty much a permanent basis. Don conveys what that is like without any sense of self-pity but with a fine appreciation of the frustration that ensues on both sides of any resulting situation.
I might have been convinced that The Rosie Project was not for me, but I was wrong. Like Don I have to remember that there is no substitute for real engagement, be that person to person or person to book.