Monday, October 7, 2019

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
Recommended Ages: 13+

Don Tillman is a geneticist who teaches evolutionary psychology at a major university in Melbourne. His brain is wired differently from most people’s, so he is socially challenged and has difficulty getting past – not to mention through – his first date with a woman. Encouraged by his colleague and best friend Gene, a chronic philanderer, Don creates a questionnaire to attempt, in a scientifically rigorous way, to filter the female population for Miss Right, who is surely out there somewhere. Then a completely unsuitable candidate walks into his office, and throws everything out of whack.

Although practically every aspect of Rosie contradicts Don’s criteria for the perfect mate, he can’t stop thinking about her. He starts to refer to her, in his private thoughts, as the Most Beautiful Woman in the World. He undertakes an ethically dodgy genetics project solely to identify her biological father, and refuses to give it up, setback after setback, even when Rosie seems ready to throw it in. He learns to mix cocktails, cuts a rug at the faculty ball and travels halfway around the world for her, having the time of his life, even while not admitting to her or to himself that he loves her. The lengths he goes to and the risks he takes are hilarious and emotionally powerful in one go.

Some readers (or listeners, if you fly Audiobook Airways) may be tempted to compare Don Tillman to Sheldon Cooper of TV’s “Big Bang Theory.” There are, to be sure, some superficial similarities. But the differences are greater. For one, Don’s story is steadily, tirelessly funny without relying on cheap laughs. For another, in spite of his awkward personality quirks, he isn’t a terrible person. Take, for example, the decision he makes about the DNA sample he inadvertently harvests from a widow in the end stage of dementia, whose dead son is one of the candidates for the Father Project. Also, his efforts to transform himself and (at least superficially) grow beyond his limitations, to step outside his comfort zone, to make himself worthy of someone entirely different from himself, show a real strength of character beyond – well, let’s just leave it there.

Don and friends have a very naturalistic world view, which in my opinion skews their moral compass and adds to their personal and relationship problems. Still, for who and what he is and the challenges he must overcome to function at a high level in the social and professional world, Don achieves some amazing things, which compensates for anything the evolutionary psychology point-of-view takes away from one's ability to sympathize with him. Getting him and Rosie (back) together ends up mattering, in this book, perhaps even more than it did in the first book – a sequel just as funny as its original, and in my opinion, more dramatically effective.

This review is based on hearing the audiobook read by Dan O'Grady. The first book in the Don Tillman trilogy, it is followed by The Rosie Effect and The Rosie Result. Simsion, an Australian novelist, is also the author of The Best of Adam Sharp and co-author, with Anne Buist, of Two Steps Forward.

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