Arts & Entertainment, Last Word

The Rosie Project

“Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.” One of my favorite quotations from E.M. Forster’s classic Howard’s End perfectly illustrates Graeme Simsion’s thoroughly enjoyable book, The Rosie Project. When moving into summer’s hazy days of pool-gazing and star-searching, I always look for a beach book that will surpass the typical thriller while maintaining my interest. The Rosie Project won my interest through its unique soul and spirit.

Narrator Don Tillman is an associate professor of genetics at a technological institute in Melbourne. His social difficulties have kept him isolated, so he methodically searches for a wife with the help of his only two friends, Gene and Claudia, who accept his idiosyncrasies. Gene, the promiscuous and fun-loving head of the psychology department, helps Don administer his Wife Project through a questionnaire that he has scientifically devised for potential partners, one that will rule out any woman whose interests and habits are incompatible with his strongly ingrained ideas, firm preferences, and rigorously scheduled life.

This novel immediately draws in the reader through Don’s deadpan, inherently funny voice, as he recounts his encounters with people in his everyday existence, such as the Dean, academic colleagues, and the women he seeks to qualify through administering questionnaires in his Wife Project. In presenting a genetics lecture to students with Asperger’s syndrome, he tacitly reveals that he too may have it, discussing its advantages in terms of following life with a measure of organization, focus, and detachment.

While Don acknowledges his difficulties in reading social cues from people, he rejects their interference with his rigid time schedules. His nerd quirks, such as answering questions with “Correct” or saying “Greetings” instead of hello, promote the awkward and hilarious situations he finds himself in. Through his often puzzled point of view, we draw our own conclusions. Our evaluations are different from his, which generally emphasize intellectual rigor and conclusions supported by fact instead of the notions and feelings that he dismisses as irrational.

When Gene sends a bartender named Rosie to meet Don, he automatically crosses her out since she fails his standards on numerous levels. Yet Don finds himself drawn to her regardless. Upon finding out that she has no idea who her real father is, he helps her figure out a way to discover him through DNA testing of the suspects, a batch of doctors who graduated from medical school with her mother. Madcap accidents and escapades ensue as they undertake the Father Project, making their way from a local gay bar to a raucous faculty party to New York City, seeking DNA and adapting their opinions of each other along the way.

The Rosie Project is an unlikely sounding candidate for the best romantic comic novel I have read in a long time. Yet Graeme Simsion both fulfills the usual requirements for a classic romantic comedy and redefines it for a more enlightened age. He creates a fully realized character in Don: a sympathetic, sweet man whose eccentricity, rigid set of rules and frustration with his outsider status have sometimes kept the world from appreciating him and vice versa. Any outsider can relate. Don’s complex humanity, along with Rosie and her acceptance of him as a true friend, make you hope for them to succeed.

In a book market increasingly saturated with successful genre novels and their profitable clones, finding a fresh, charming story that makes the romantic comedy formula seem both classic and new is a difficult feat. The Rosie Project will reward both the casual reader looking for fun and the one who loves to re-read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or watch Annie Hall for the umpteenth time, spending time with characters and conclusions that feel real.

Written by: Miriam R. Kramer

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