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:
- Qualitative impairment in social interaction;
- Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities;
- Clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning; and
- 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)