Monday, 21 April 2014

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

Genetics professor Don Tillman does not comprehend subtleties, cannot lie, does not respond naturally to social cues, plans his day down to the minute for optimal time usage, cooks the same meal every Tuesday night, and thinks purely on rational terms. Until Rosie arrives in his life, that is. Before long, Rosie has taken over.

Every thought and sentence that Don Tillman (aka author Graeme Simsion) emits during this book is perfection. The language, the structure - every part captures the character of this funny and frustrated man, a man who knows and wholeheartedly accepts that his mind is wired differently. What he wants, though, is to find a woman who will accept it as well. And so he initiates The Wife Project: a sixteen-page questionnaire designed to eliminate those who will not be able to accept his strictures from the outset, rather than causing him to waste time going on dates with people who will only eat one specific flavor of ice cream (ref. The Ice-Cream Incident).

Rosie is an accident. Following the hilarious and very satisfying Jacket Incident, he quickly ascertains that she is unsuitable as a partner for him and that she would likely fail the Wife Project questionnaire. Yet he allows her to come back and have a meal with him at his flat; allows her to move his furniture around; even allows her to change the time on his clock. And then – even though the chances of success and the world-wide importance of the project are minimal – he begins The Father Project, an attempt to identify Rosie’s biological father for her. Before he knows it, The Father Project takes over too. Even when it seems to pointless to continue, he cannot stop finding reasons to continue. Why?

“Humans often fail to see what is close to them and obvious to others,” he tells us. What is obvious to us is that Don Tillman is in love with Rosie, but he’s so unused to letting emotions in – he finds them so overwhelming – that he fails, for an awfully long time, to see it. But when finally puts two and two together, will it be too late?

The Rosie Project is brilliantly funny and one of the best feel-good books I’ve read in a long time. There are some awful, cringe-worthy yet hilarious moments in it – like when he climbs out the tiny bathroom window on the fourth floor of a building in New York rather than going back into a meeting that’s getting out of hand, or the night he turns himself into a cocktail-maker extraordinaire. A man for whom lying has always been a rather absurd concept soon finds himself concocting false research projects, undertaking regular subterfuge, even theft of a sort. Yet he’s so entirely innocent throughout, it is literally impossible not to root for him.

But is Don Tillman capable of love? Is it right to try and make yourself change so as to fit within another’s expectations of you? Can Don fix his best friend’s marriage as well solve all the kinks in his own life? Will Rosie be able to adapt her worldview as successfully as Don adapts his? And who, at the end of the day, is Rosie’s father?

Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. And it would make a great movie too – especially, I think, if Benedict Cumberbatch took the lead role.

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