The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

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I have said before that I make use of the free time afforded to me by my job to consume a fair amount of popular fiction in audio books. Thus I am up to date with Sookie Stackhouse, Stephanie Plum, Eve Dallas, Phryne Fisher, the Tomorrow When the War Began series, and even some guy books – Jack Reacher, Cliff Hardy, John Rebus for example. And yes, I’m a rom-com fan, so when I saw The Rosie Project at my local library I took the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

If you don’t already know, the basic story is Aspergers guy seeks partner for marriage while spending time on an unrelated project with a completely unsuitable woman. Don, the hero, an associate professor in genetics at a Melbourne university, isn’t labelled as Aspergers but we totally get the joke when he gives a lecture to a group of Aspergers children and their parents but fails to join the dots to his own idiosyncracies.

I went to psych daughter for a briefing and she gave me a copy of the standard definition for Asperger’s Disorder* which I think I’m right in saying is a condition on the Autism spectrum. To summarize, the principal markers are:

  1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction;
  2. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities;
  3. Clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning; and
  4. No significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate skills.

Sue at Whispering Gums did a very interesting post recently on the representation of people with Down Syndrome, including an argument they should be foregrounded or allowed to speak for themselves. In this context I think it is relevant that the definition for DS includes a level of mental impairment. Aspergers doesn’t, but on the other hand nor do you have to be a genius as is so often implied. Still, there is a lot of, ostensibly affectionate, fun poked at men with Aspergers in popular culture, and it would be interesting to know what they thought about it.

A piece in the Business section of The West Australian which illustrates the problem facing Autism, and by extension Aspergers, sufferers, came up while I was preparing this post:

Autistic people have about half the chance of getting a job as someone without the disorder, despite outperforming most of their peers …

A new study … has debunked myths associated with workers on the autistic spectrum, revealing a raft of competitive advantages like exhibiting a greater work ethic.

The study said there was only 42% workforce participation for 157,000 working age autistic people in Australia, compared to 53% for individuals with a disability and 83% for those without disabilities.

The loveable genius with poor social skills is probably a bit of a cliché in popular culture these days, but The Rosie Project carries it off pretty well, although I found the ending contrived. Don who is 39 decides he needs a wife. He considers himself eminently marriageable – he is intelligent, well-off, active, an expert in martial arts, and conventionally good looking. A series of dating disasters persuades him that he should pre-screen ‘applicants’ using a detailed questionnaire. This becomes the ‘Wife Project’.

Don’s best/only friends are Gene, the professor in charge of his department, and a notorious philanderer, and Gene’s wife Claudia, a psychiatrist and Don’s unofficial therapist. Gene takes charge of the Wife Project, undertaking to forward to Don any suitable applicants. As this is a first person narrative we from time to time get jokes that Don misses, like the Aspergers lecture, or Gene’s obvious intention to make use of the questionnaire data – and there are 229 initial applicants – for himself, but above all we get insight into Don’s strangely logical mind.

When a good looking, casually dressed young woman presents herself at Don’s office and says Gene sent her Don assumes she is a Wife Project applicant and without any preliminaries, proposes a dinner date. Don gets to the restaurant on time, on his bike, but is refused admission because of his clothing – his Gortex waterproof is not a ‘jacket’ – and when the woman, Rosie, arrives he is sitting on a couple of security heavies he has subdued using Aikido. Rosie, who is known to the restaurant staff, she has been a barmaid there, calms everyone down and Don and Rosie repair to Don’s flat where he makes them an elaborate dinner. Already guilty of being late to the restaurant, Rosie further compounds her failure as a Wife Project applicant by going out on to the balcony for a smoke, and anyway, as a barmaid, she is probably insufficiently intelligent.

Out of the evening though, a further project arises, the Father Project. It seems Rosie’s late mother, a doctor, had a fling at her graduation dinner on the night before her wedding to Phil, a trainer at a gym. Rosie has been told by her mother that her biological father is not Phil but one of the medical students at the dinner, so Don offers to DNA test the most likely candidates and subsequently, to track down and test all the men at the dinner (or their surviving relatives).

There are many twists and turns as Rosie’s mother’s former classmates are located and tested; as Rosie and Don spend time together; as the many misunderstandings arising from Don’s complete absence of social skills are, eventually, resolved; when it is discovered that Gene was also at the medical dinner; when Don misinterprets or is unable to process signals from Rosie; but SPOILER ALERT, all ends well, as you would expect.

I got home from a trip without hearing the last CD (of 8) of the story, and anyway I was already thinking about this review, so I borrowed the ‘real’ book and read it (324 pp) almost in one sitting. It was strange with the voice of the reader already in my head – and he had a very strange voice for Rosie – but also with the pacing. Scenes which I clearly remembered taking some time while I was listening, passed in one or two sentences in the book. I think it must be that listening to a book creates something like a continuous movie in your head, and is in any case much slower than reading, while with reading you ‘live’ a series of scenes. Something like that anyway.

From what I can see, they’ve selected Jennifer Lawrence to play Rosie in the movie (Sony have the rights). And I bet they don’t set it in Melbourne.

 

* Definition from DSM IV of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM 5 ‘which was published in May 2013 canceled Asperger’s disorder as a separate diagnosis and homogenized it under autism spectrum disorder…’  Wikipedia)

 

Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Project, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013. Audio book published by Qld Narrating Service, read by Hugh Taylor (There are other versions)

Kim Macdonald, Autistic Workers Surpass Colleagues, The West Australian, Mon, May 2, 2016. Research by Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, Delia Hendrie, senior lecturer, Curtin School of Public Health.

An article in The Age, Mon 9 May 2016 on issues for teenagers (here)

Other Reviews: Whispering Gums (here) and ANZ LitLovers (here)

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14 thoughts on “The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

  1. One person on the autism spectrum that writes about autism (and the only one I know of) is Temple Grandin. I’ve read her work on autism and on animals and she is well worth reading. Wikipedia says: Mary Temple Grandin (born August 29, 1947) is an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University, world-renowned autism spokesperson and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. She is widely celebrated as one of the first individuals on the autism spectrum to publicly share insights from her personal experience of autism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been reading the Temple Grandin website http://www.templegrandin.com/ Amazing! Thanks for that Michelle. Haven’t found out what she thinks about Big Bang Theory yet but she does say: ” … the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled”. Don’s modifying (normalising) of his behaviour was what I found contrived about the ending of The Rosie Project.

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  2. I’m still ambivalent about this book.
    Of course I want Auties to find love. But it seems to me that in this novel Rosie takes responsibility for all the emotional issues, and I suspect that it would wear thin after a while.

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  3. I loved your comment about reading “even some guy books”! And thanks for the link.

    I enjoyed the book – I thought Simsion found the right tone to carry it off. However, I didn’t feel the need to read the follow up novel. However, that whole issue about people speaking for themselves is a fair one – as we’ve talked about before re who writes about indigenous people. It’s particularly tricky, as you intimate, when people who are “other” are the butt of humour, albeit affectionate. Do we say it’s valid for “others” to be written about because it encourages people to better understand these “others” or is it not valid because we are presuming to know them and because we are encroaching on their dignity? There’s no easy answer is there? And yet, if writers only ever write about ordinary white middle class men and women, they are making everyone else invisible. One answer is to make it easier for diverse authors to be published … BUT even if that were achieved, and it should be, we risk becoming TOO politically correct if we say writers can only write in their own box. It’s just that those in the majority box have a huge responsibility to be careful and to listen when they get it wrong. Sorry for the ramble. Hope it makes sense – it’s hard to find the right words to express all this!

    In Simsion’s case he specifically doesn’t label Don, though Don’s behaviour and his talk to the “aspies” are surely intended to make us think he is. He does say that Don was inspired by a friend.

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    • I was getting worried about all the girl books I was listing. Actually, I don’t like adventure/action much so there’s 50% of guy books out the window straight away. I tried the sequel a few months ago, but gave up very quickly. Now that I’ve read the original I think that Simsion attempted to recreate the tone at a later stage in the relationship, and failed.
      The question of who should write about whom (did you like that?) becomes increasingly complicated, the more we look into it. We can’t stop middle class white guys writing about whatever they damn well feel like, but we need to make space for people who aren’t MCWG to represent themselves. And that is probably something we can do by our choices as readers/reviewers.

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      • I certainly DID like THAT Bill! And yes, that’s a good point about our choices as readers/reviewers and bloggers who raise issues as well as just reviewing books. We can make a difference to the culture I think – even a little dent is a help, eh?

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      • Weel, you have to believe you can make a difference. I think ‘representation’ is in the air, anyway. Look at Merilees and Heiss on Aborigines, or Sarah Kanake on Down Syndrome your review of which I referenced above, and any number of people on representations of women. Geology daughter will only read books about women by women, and for that matter, I think that’s also Melanie’s purpose at Grab the Lapels.

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  4. Oh!! OH!!! You must watch Mary and Max! It is a beautiful claymation film done by Australian director Adam Elliot! It’s narrated by Barry Humphries. Mary is narrated by Toni Collette, and Max is done by Philip Seymore Hoffman. It’s a gorgeous film about a lonely Australian girl who randomly chooses a name from a New York phone book to be her pen pal. That’s how she comes to know Max, and man with…Asperger syndrome! Oh, you’ll love it!

    This book sounds delightful, too! It’s interesting that you read and listened to the story. The best audiobook I’ve ever listened to was Lolita, narrated by Jeremy Irons. Chilling!

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  5. Now I’m embarrassed! I’ve seen shorts of the movie but never watched it (I googled up a version labelled the full movie, Free! just now, looked a bit dodgy with lots of ads for Russian mail order brides), and I’m a Toni Collette fan.
    Usually when I review an audio book, I skip-read the paper version for quotes and names (what you hear is not always what the author wrote) but yes, it was interesting to read both ways in the space of 24 hours. After I wrote the review I got to listen to the last cd, and despite knowing the ending, that still sounded ‘new’.

    Listening to an audio book narrated by a top actor is a great experience – most recently I listened to Reece Witherspoon reading Go Set a Watchman. I will discuss Lolita one day because it is one of those stories that is ‘in the air’ – older man brought down by a teenage vamp. But when I actually read it, a few years ago, I was shocked to find that Nabokov, through his protagonist Humbert, is the instigator.

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    • I read your review, and yes I don’t think Don could exist outside the pages of a book. I don’t fancy people being sawn in half but I’ll have a look at some of your other reviews when I get some time off.

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