Review: What the Heck is The Rosie Project?!

Title: The Rosie Project

Author: Graeme Simsion

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: January 2013

Genre(s): contemporary romance, humour, Australian

Synopsis (via goodreads.com):

Narrator Don Tillman 39, Melbourne genetics prof and Gregory Peck lookalike, sets a 16-page questionnaire The Wife Project to find a non-smoker, non-drinker ideal match. But Rosie and her Father Project supersede. The spontaneous always-late smoker-drinker wants to find her biological father. She resets his clock, throws off his schedule, and turns his life topsy-turvy.

I was definitely nervous to read this hugely popular book, as I had heard it was about a man with Asperger's Syndrome trying to analyze the best way to find the perfect mate. My brother-in-law heads the Calgary chapter of the Autism and Asperger's Friendship Society* and consequently I have met many lovely young men and women who would fall in a wide arc under the Autism umbrella. I wasn't sure how Simsion would represent this community, and he actually did a fantastic job, even offering some valid perspectives on this relatively new phenom we're starting to officially call The Autism Spectrum...

I wish someone had compared him to Gregory Peck 

early on in the novel, as I couldn't stop casting [New Zealand comedian] Rhys Darby in my head,

especially as there's a lot of clueless slapstick that he would kill at. (But can he do an Aussie accent?! Of course he can! He's Rhys Frickin' Darby!!)

At any rate, Don Tillman is such a lovable character, even more-so because of Simsion's wonderful inner monologue and consequent decisions the character makes based on his past experiences (including an alienated childhood) and data he has meticulously collected over his almost 40 years! 

Part of the brilliance of Simsion's story (originally a script for a play) is that Don initially has to cover for his over-sexed colleague and deliver a lecture on Asperger's, of which he had minimal knowledge, and didn't identify with any of the "symptoms" at all, but which gives the audience/ reader a base for his conventionally "bizarre" behaviour.

Over the course of the novel Don is thrust into radically different scenarios than he had ever encountered in his strictly defined and highly organized life. A few times he referred to experiencing "sensory overload" which, even as a non-Autism spectrum person, I can highly identify with! Many times (usually travelling in foreign lands) my husband has witnessed me "overload" and break down in tears, whether because I'm over-tired, hungry, overwhelmed by crowds, or feeling physically lost.

This journey of discovering and understanding Autism feels new, but as Simsion shares Don's memories of 25 years earlier having a medical file with 
 ... the words 'depression, bi-polar disorder? OCD?  and schizophrenia?' The question marks are important - beyond the obvious observation that I was depressed, no definitive diagnosis was ever made, despite attempts by the psychiatric profession to fit me into a simplistic category (205).
We gain a new empathy for thousands of misunderstood men and women who don't fit into our pigeonholed norms.

I hold my brother-in-law in such high esteem because he's recognized, from his years and years of working with socially "unacceptable" children, how to not only help them interact with the general public BUT ALSO celebrate what makes them unique, and introduce them to other equally unique kids! As Don Tillman comes to understand:
I realized that increasing my ability to interact with other humans would require some effort... But the skills would be useful in their own right (270).
Towards the end of the novel (leading up to the climax) Don lists what he has learned (basically how to honour himself and his strengths while working on interacting with others and moving outside of his comfort zone) and to me that's the greatest, most honest part of the book. Simsion could easily have taken this hilariously socially awkward character and given him a physical and emotional makeover to be the perfect "normal" suitor.

The ending definitely has a romantic comedy set-up, but it works, and you close the book feeling happy and light-hearted.

And by the way, Rhys Darby often plays up the socially awkward comedian, but he definitely doesn't need a She's All That makeover!

Take THAT Freddie Prinze Jr.!
Naturally, the books and research papers described the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome, and I formed a provisional conclusion that most of these were simply variations in human brain function that had been inappropriately medicalised because they did not fit social norms - constructed social norms that reflect the most common human configurations rather than the full range (7).
Apparently [the parents] were more concerned with adherence to social convention than the progress their children were making (13).
If you or anyone you know has someone needing help that falls under the Autism Spectrum, www.aafscalgary.com is a great place to share information and get support for you and your loved ones!

Thanks for reading!

~ Spinning Jenny 

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