I have to preface this review with Mr Litlove’s favourite joke, culled from a collection sent to him over the internet one day entitled ‘jokes about engineers’. I know, I know, just bear with me.
A young engineer is walking down the road one day when he sees his friend, another engineer, riding towards him on a brand new bike. He is clearly very taken with it, doing wheelies and stunts and suchlike, and skids to a halt with a flourish before his friend.
‘Hey,’ says the first engineer. ‘Nice bike. Where did you get it?’
‘You’ll never believe what just happened to me,’ says his friend. ‘I was waiting at the bus stop when this woman on a bike rides up. She gets off the bike and flings it to the ground. Then she undresses and throws all her clothes on the ground too. And then she says “Take what you want!” ‘
‘Yeah, good choice,’ says the engineer. ‘The clothes may not have fit.’
I mention this as the best way to show why The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion hit a particularly vibrant chord with me. Perhaps the quiet beauty of this delightful book is that we all know a Don Tillmann. Some of us are friends with Don Tillmans, some of us work with Don Tillmanns, heck, some of us are even married to relatives of Don Tillmann. We all of us know how endearing and how irritating they can be, but it took Graeme Simsion to find the perfect voice and narrative vehicle for this subset of humankind.
Professor Don Tillman is a good-looking 39-year-old geneticist who has decided he is in need of a wife. The only problem is that for some inexplicable reason, he has tremendous bother with the opposite sex whenever he comes into meaningful contact with them. They are unfocused in discussion, irrational in their choices and often arrive late. In fact, the whole concept of dating seems absurd to Don, and his research into commercial matchmaking does not impress him. At a social event for singles, he is astounded to note how the others ‘engaged in small talk – an extraordinary waste of time when a major life decision was at stake.’ And when he arrives at a posh restaurant, he doesn’t understand why his Gore-Tex jacket doesn’t fit the ‘jackets only’ rule propounded by the hotel employee: ‘the high-technology garment that had protected me in rain and snowstorms was being irrationally, unfairly and obstructively contrasted with the official’s essentially decorative woolen equivalent.’ Poor Don; it’s a mixed up crazy world they make him live in.
And so he decides to put together a questionnaire that will cut back on the dreadful wastage of time and energy that dating entails and find him a suitable candidate for marriage. When Rosie unexpectedly walks into his room at the university – sent there by his friend and womaniser down the corridor, Gene, for a scientific enquiry – Don mistakes her for a dating candidate. Not for long, of course, as Rosie is quite obviously unsuitable in every way. But she does turn out to have a problem that engages him. Rosie doesn’t know who her father is, but she does know he came from her mother’s class of medical students. With a geneticist’s dream problem to solve, how could Don fail to become involved in Rosie’s life? Before he knows what’s happening his beloved routine is in pieces, his regular weekday menu is thrown out of whack and he’s using university equipment for private purposes. Whatever happened to the rules?
Essentially, this book is a delight. If life seems cold and grey lately, and it feels like forever since a story made you laugh, go and get hold of a copy. Mr Litlove, who would not normally read a romance if I held a gun to his head (he would point out I couldn’t shoot it), practically pounced on it after watching me chortle my way through it, and loved it too. I think what makes the book so endearing is that it never treats Asperger’s like a condition. Don is simply Don, and I would bet good money that at least one part of his life will be familiar to you. When Don is driven (fast) by Rosie for the first time in a convertible with rock music blaring, he comments: ‘Discordant sound, wind, risk of death – I tried to assume the mental state that I used at the dentist.’ And I thought, crikey, that’s my life. So in short, it’s just wonderful, go read it. Even Don would have to agree that it’s a worthwhile use of your time.