Graeme Simsion’s THE ROSIE PROJECT is a romantic comedy about an unusually specific man, but it still manages to be universal as it deals with the contradictions of being human. Don Tillman, like many of us, is observant about other people, but fails to have basic insights about himself. He, also like many of us, says he wants one quite specific thing, but when presented with reality, he wants something entirely different.
Don is a genetics professor who cooks, works out, and acquires and masters new skills quickly. He is also single, due mostly to his lack of social skills. In fact, he has never had a second date. As the narrator, Don gives us an inside look at his orderly, efficient view of the world and its inhabitants. However, the reader quickly makes observations about Don that he cannot make himself. For instance, while giving a lecture about Asperger’s syndrome, he is describing himself without ever realizing it.
"Simsion has created a strong, singular and consistent voice. Rather than alienating the reader, he manages to use Don to exaggerate qualities that lie in all of us."
The plot sets in motion shortly after this, when he decides to embark on the Wife Project, a questionnaire he creates and then refines to find the perfect wife. She must work out but not be concerned with her looks. No smokers. No vegetarians. No picky eaters of any kind. He’s looking for someone logical and orderly to fit neatly into his meticulous world.
His married friends Gene and Claudia decide to throw in a “wild card” submission named Rosie, who is on her own search as well. Having been raised by her disappointing stepfather Phil after her mother died, Rosie has never met her actual father. She knows he is a former classmate of her mother’s from a drunken graduation night celebration. Rosie is, of course, all wrong for Don: a vegetarian smoker bartender who is usually running late and wearing makeup. Don quickly rules her out as a potential wife, but finds himself inclined to help her in her own search, the Father Project, though he is unable to articulate why.
From there, THE ROSIE PROJECT develops these two characters and provides the reader with several hilarious scenes of awkward social encounters and failed amateur espionage. Among these is a gem where he fails to realize Rosie works at a gay bar.
Don, with the aid of those around him, gradually learns that logic, order and efficiency have little to do with human relationships, romantic or otherwise. He begins to empathize with his friends and see their marriage is struggling. He is able to discern facts about Phil and Rosie’s relationship that she is not. The reader, however, stays two steps ahead of Don throughout the novel, watching him come to terms with the world around him as we all have to do from time to time.
Simsion has created a strong, singular and consistent voice. Rather than alienating the reader, he manages to use Don to exaggerate qualities that lie in all of us. Everyone struggles to relate to the outside world, see themselves as they really are, and accept what it is that we really want. Don has those qualities in spades, which makes him more human than most and his journey all the more satisfying.
Reviewed by Josh Mallory on October 11, 2013