Thursday, 30 April 2015

Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Book cover of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
So I've spent the last three months pretty much solely writing about War & Peace. It's not that I wanted Booking in Heels to become a Tolstoy-only zone, but between starting a new job and desperately trying to get the read-a-long posts up, there wasn't a whole lot of time to talk about other, lighter books.

But now I'm finally freeeeee (if no less tired) and able to talk about books that may actually interest people. Perish the thought.

Plot summary: Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

Of course I'm going to restart regular posting by trashing a book everybody loves. Of course. 

Well, no. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I even disliked The Rosie Project really and so I'm not going to 'trash it' as such. It has a unique concept and it's meant to be a light-hearted and fun romance. It's just that for me, it's slightly over-rated and caused me to raise an irritated eyebrow at times.

Graeme Simsion writes quite well - the prose flows well, in a light quirky way, and it's hard to put the book down once you start reading. The plot could be an interesting one too - staid, reserved Professor decides that he can use logic and reasoning to find a partner, only to have his project contradicted when he's confronted with a wild, rebellious woman that rationally shouldn't interest him at all. Sounds great.

The problem is, for such a concept to work you need to invest an awful lot into the characters... and that just doesn't happen here. Let's start with Rosie, because she's easier. And alsoprofoundly average in every way. She is neither boring not interesting, she's just sort of... there. Don't get me wrong, it's a bit of a twist to have the female love interest in a romantic novel be the flat one, but I was thinking maybe at some point we could really push the boat out and have two fleshed out charcters?

Alright, let's get to the real problem. Don Tilman has some sort of mental health issue, and there's a heavy implication that he's on the Autism Spectrum somewhere. I mean, they say that everybody is, but his behaviour is severely impacted. Think of him as Sheldon Cooper-esque.

The message I took from this book is that everybody with Asberger's or High-Functioning Autism or whatever are hilarious. It's okay to laugh at them. Don Tilman is obviously exaggerated to the effect that he's not a believable character at all, but it really does give off a vibe that everybody that suffers from these genuine mental illnesses are clowns.

Oh, but they're also geniuses. Because of Don's mental health, he's wonderful at science but can also instantly teach himself black-belt karate from a book, learn expert high-level bartending in a few hours and can be an expert dancer, again from reading a book. So, to clarify, Asberger's sufferers are basically loveable buffoons who have plugged in to the Matrix. 

Believe it or not, that's not what bothered me. I know, right? And you thought we were done. But no. What really offended me was that, apparently, if you just explain to somebody with Asberger's that what they're doing isn't rational, they can just... stop. Isn't that nice? I can't believe that the mental health teams across the world haven't reached this ground-breaking conclusion yet.

I get that it wants to end on a happy note; that Rosie is good for Don and brings him back to Earth, I do. And I'm sure that, for some sufferers, the right person can help stabilise their mental health. It just doesn't work the way that The Rosie Project implies.

I know a lot of you will think I'm over-reacting and that's fine. This is a light-hearted, fun book that I understand wasn't intended to be a wider analysis of mental health issues. But I'm sensitive to stereotypes of OCD, Asberger's, Bipolar Disorder, etc, and books like this, fun though they may be, really don't help.

Climbing down from my soapbox and putting aside the above issues, I still don't really understand the hype surrounding The Rosie Project. It didn't make a lasting impression as the ending is very rushed and weak, so as a result I feel profoundly 'meh' about this book and won't be reading the sequel.   

Read a more balanced review of The Rosie Project at Devouring Texts.


  1. This is why I've sort of been putting off reading this book. I bought it when everyone was really hyping it and then EVERYONE was gushing about it and I figured, just like with Gone Girl and A Fault in Our Stars, I'd be that one dissenting voice that didn't care for it. So I think it'll sit on my kindle shelf a little longer.

  2. Thanks for the honest review. I can see why this can be such a frustrating book. I haven't read it, but based on your take on how it has stereotypes on mental health and other disorders, I might not even want to give this a chance.

  3. I still really want to read this, and I might even end up loving it - but it WILL be interesting to see how I feel about the Asperger's side of things. I'm not SUPER-touchy about mental health stuff, but if it's really unhelpful or damaging then I'll definitely have something to say about it. We... shall... see...

  4. I've never really fancied this and this is exactly why - I know that a lot of people love it but I always had a feeling that the mental health aspects wouldn't be handled well. I don't like autism being trivialised because it just gives people the impression that it's a condition that people choose to live with, almost, and that if they just tried, they could change. So I wasn't planning on reading this before your texts and review and I'm definitely not planning on reading it now!

  5. I did enjoy this book - it was immensely...what's the word...cheerful. Having said that I have no intention of reading the follow-up because of exactly everything you've said in this post. As I read the book I knew I was trying to ignore a number of things that niggled me and, whilst I could ignore it at the time, thinking about it in retrospect just irritates me. It's refreshing to see such an honest review!


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