The Rosie Project


Graeme Simsion




Date Reviewed:

March 16, 2014

unny books must be really hard to write, because they are so rare. A lot of humorous material that attempts to be funny turns out to be mildly amusing, or worse - simply stupid. So when I read something that genuinely makes me laugh it is a rare treat. (It's not that I am a grump, I just don't find many books to be laugh-out-loud funny.) Here are some of the books that I have previously laughed with: A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, Freddy and Fredericka, A Confederacy of Dunces, the books of Carl Hiaasen. I will add the Rosie Project to the list. It has several sections that had me laughing, especially in the middle portion of the book, when Don is blundering through social conventions he doesn't understand.

The Rosie Project is the story of Don Tillman, a genetics professor who teaches at an Australian university. Don is unable to grasp the nuances of every day social interaction, he takes things literally - such as when Rosie says "Tell me something I don't know." Don quickly thinks through his extensive genetics knowledge for an interesting yet obscure fact and replies: "Did you know that the testicles of certain wasps explode during mating?". There are numerous examples of this type of joke - Don acts in a manner that is entirely practical and logical, yet goes against expected norms, thus generating the humorous result. It is never exactly spelled out, but presumably Don suffers from Asbergers. He lives a rigidly organized scheduled life, with a tightly scripted set of meals, exactly the same one for every day of the week. Every minute of the day is planned, with a strict schedule of cleaning, exercise, food preparation (with a caloric budget for alcohol), and teaching. Some of the humor results from the upsets to his routine and how Don deals with it.

Now that he is nearly 40 years old, Don is trying to find a wife. But since he is unable to function socially, Don has no idea how to actually meet and woo a suitable woman. He has never even had a second date. To maximize spouse-search efficiency, Don generates a massive sixteen page questionaire, with detailed series of questions designed to filter out all unsuitable matches. If the woman is a smoker, or if she is habitually late, or she is particular about what flavor of ice cream she likes (Don maintains that the cold of ice cream numbs the taste buds, therefore different flavors can't be distinguished), then that woman is obviously inappropriate and no time should be wasted upon her. He calls this effort "The Wife Project". Of course, the plot of the novel involves Rosie's and Don's interactions, as they get to know and fall in love with each other.

While Don is unsuccessfully running his Wife Project, he meets Rosie, a psychology student at the university. Obviously, Rosie is completely unsuitable as a potential mate, but because she is trying to determine the identity of her father (Rosie's mother died without revealing who her father is), and since Don is a genetics researcher, he is uniquely suited for helping her answer her question. He calls this the "Father Project". Much of the novel involves complicated schemes to get genetic samples of various men who might have slept with her mother.

This book is an entertaining read, I finished it in two days. Because of the characters and the humors, there is a lot of momentum to keep turning the pages and see what happens next. The only reason I didn't give it a five star rating is that I felt there was some wildly unlikely changes to Don's character in the end. Suddenly he recognizes social situations, analyzes what behavior is expected of him, and then adapts accordingly. Why did this understanding/capability suddenly develop? Certainly Don was motivated in his previous 40 years to understand societies norms. Overall this is an enjoyable book.