The Rosie Project (2013) – Graeme Simsion

Title:The Rosie Project
AuthorGraeme Simsion
Publisher:Text Publishing Australia
Date Published:2013
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐

Don Tillman is the hero is this rather offbeat love story. Don may or may not be on the Autism spectrum. He is 39, a geneticist, eats according to a Standardized Meal System and is determined to find a wife. Along with the help of his friend Gene, a fellow professor at a university in Melbourne, Australia, Don comes up with what he perceives to be a brilliant endeavor known as The Wife Project. Armed with a questionnaire that frowns upon smokers and being late our protagonist goes on very few dates before he begins to doubt he will ever find the right woman.

Along comes Rosie Jarman who is late for their date, claims to be a vegetarian who will also eat seafood as long as its sustainable, drinks a bit too much and lights up a dreaded cigarette. After a rather unprecedented night of moving Don’s furniture around and discussing his very tidy pantry and wardrobe the two very unlikely people decide to help Rosie find her real father. So begins The Father Project. Rosie’s mother may have had a sexual encounter with a medical student around thirty years ago, and with little information other than a photograph and a list of men that attended a graduation party Don and Rosie become obsessed with finding unique ways of collecting DNA samples of all of her potential fathers.

Their adventures include bar-tending at a reunion party, and traveling to New York City to track down the missing piece in Rosie’s life. As it turns out Rosie’s relationship with her stepfather is not what she would like it to be, and her mother’s death has a lot to do with that. Rosie is easy-going on the surface and works at a bar leaving Don to often assume she is not intellectually compatible. Don on the other hand is socially inept and literally calculates his every action, and is able to guess a person’s age and BMI (body mass index) with frightening accuracy, but finds himself embracing Rosie’s wilder approach to life.

As predictable as the ending may at first seem, it is the journey there that is worth the pages read. Don’s relationship with his friend Daphne, an elderly woman who eventually developed Alzheimer’s disease, and whom he taught genetics and gifted with flowers, is a back story that gives the reader a little more insight into Don’s uncharacteristic kindness. His friend Gene is the proverbial ‘dog’ when it comes to women as he is determined to sleep with as many ‘nationalities,’ as he possibly can, but it is his wife Claudia whom he is in an open relationship with, whose not so subtle conversations with Don are some of the most meaningful in the novel. Despite Don’s insistence that he has few friends those that he does have are deeply loyal and wholly accepting of his ‘unique’ ways.

The novel does make reference to Asperger’s Syndrome but never in connection with Don, even though I am prone to believe that this in fact the case with our hero. In every way I think this story is not about defining the characters but about embracing all the parts that make us uniquely human. This is a love story, but not in the conventional sense. It is about loving those around us for much more than compatibility or genetics or a vague notion of what society expects. It is also very notably about the extreme lengths that people will go to for people that they love or care about, and often times it is only after we have moved proverbial mountains for another person do we begin to realize what it means to truly love another.

Simsion’s novel is refreshing in that it is unconventionally unconventional. Despite the main characters not being as ’rounded’ as I would have liked, Don’s childlike enthusiasm and Rosie’s hard-knock attitude are easy to adore.

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