This was such a fun book, I wanted to read it in one sitting. It brings together a lot of things I like – clever romantic comedy, Australia, and Asperger’s. If that sounds like a weird combination, it is, but that’s me.
The Rosie Project is about Don Tillman, a genetics professor at a university in Melbourne. Don isn’t diagnosed with anything, but he clearly has Aspergers-like tendencies. He has a designated meal for every day of the week, never says the right thing, and has his time scheduled to the minute. He’s very aware of his limitations, yet oddly unaware that people might call it a spectrum disorder (despite giving a very thoughtful lecture on the topic for a friend of his).
Restaurants are minefields for the socially inept, and I was nervous as always in these situations. But we got off to an excellent start when we both arrived at exactly 7:00 pm as arranged. Poor synchronization is a huge waste of time.
We survived the meal without her criticizing me for an social errors. It is difficult to conduct a conversation while wondering whether you are looking at the correct body part, but I locked on to her bespectacled eyes, as recommended by Gene. This resulted in some inaccuracy in the eating process, which she did not seem to notice.
Because he has a hard time meeting people, Don decides to use his scientific abilities to design a survey that will lead him to his perfect wife. No dating, no mess. The problem is, his standards are very high. She has to be punctual, can’t drink or smoke, has to be fit, has to be educated, etc.
He meets Rosie, a local bartender who doesn’t meet any of his qualifications, but she’s looking for help finding her biological father, so the Wife Project turns into the Father Project. This leads Don into the highly unethical behavior of scouting out a large group of men (medical students who graduated with Rosie’s mother), stealing their DNA, and using the university lab to run the tests.
From the title of the book, you don’t need to wonder where this book is heading – just enjoy the ride. My very favorite thing about this book was the complexity with which it handled spectrum disorders like Asperger’s. Simsion describes the positives and negatives of being “wired differently.” For example, one of my favorite parts is when Rosie talks Don into working the bar at an event, and even though he looks down on bartending, he turns out to be completely gifted, because he’s memorized every kind of drink and remembers every order. He ends up having the time of his life doing something he never anticipated – but that because of his condition he can do better than everyone else.
At the same time, Don constantly weighs how much he needs to adapt, to fit in, to change his habits or his standards. When is it a good thing to push beyond your comfort zones, and when are you trying too hard to be something you’re not? Simsion makes clear the answers aren’t easy. I ask myself those questions all the time, and I can’t be the only one.
If you’re not interested in reading about a character with Asperger’s you won’t like this book. But if you’ve spent any time wondering whether Sheldon and Amy on the Big Bang Theory will ever really have a relationship –you’ll love this book. I suspect more of us are “wired differently” than we realize, so I loved this perspective on negotiating the complexities of logic and emotion, stretching your boundaries, and finding someone to love. It’s worth noting that, unlike Sheldon Cooper, Don is caring and generous, he just doesn’t always show it. His friendships with Rosie, Gene, and Claudia are what make this book worthwhile.
The book is set in Melbourne, Australia, although at first it was difficult to get a sense of how the setting influences the story. Since I’m including this in my Around the World Challenge, and because I loved visiting Australia, I really wanted to get a sense of place. But I suppose university life is sort of a “place” unto itself. Oddly, it’s not until Don leaves the country and flies to New York that I really got a sense of the difference. He points out that New York is a much easier place to be if you have Asperger’s – it’s got more tolerance for weirdness. This made sense to me. When I was in Australia, the overwhelming difference I saw in the people there was their good humor, friendliness, and laid-back attitude. So I can imagine that having Asperger’s (finding it hard to talk to people, understand jokes, or waste time) would be infinitely more difficult there.
And while I didn’t get to see too much of Australia in this book, the long flight between Australia and the U.S. brought back happy memories for me, as did Don’s love of New York’s Museum of Natural History.
Honestly, the whole book made me super happy. Don’t miss this one.