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The Rosie Project
Lots of little laugh-out-loud bits tucked away.
"...I made a minor social error, which I quickly corrected. "The fat woman - overweight woman - at the back? ..."
The Wife Project is a questionnaire designed to eliminate unsatisfactory candidates without the tiresome bother of dates and other time-wasting activities. My strategy was to minimise the chance of making a type-one error - wasting time on an unsuitable choice. Inevitably that increased the risk of a type-two error - rejecting a suitable person. But that was an acceptable risk as I was dealing with a very large population. 'Question 35: Do you eat kidneys? is testing for food problems. If you ask directly about food problems, they say "I eat anything" and then you find out they are vegetarian.'
Takes his questionnaire to a Table For Eight dinner. "It was a hot night and Maria had chosen a dress with the twin advantages of coolness and overt sexual display .... Olivia resumed talking to me while the others engaged in small talk - an extraordinary waste of time when a major life decision was at stake."
A woman he rates as "extremely attractive" says to him: "Listen.I have drunk two glasses of wine, I have not had sex for six weeks, and I would rather wait six more than try anyone else here. Now, can I buy you a drink?" It was a very kind offer. But it was still early in the evening. I said,"More guests are expected. You may find someone suitable if you wait."
His friend reviews questionnaire responses with him. "How many are suitable?" "So far, zero. The questionnaire is an excellent filter." "You don't think you're setting the bar just a teeny bit high?" I pointed out that I was collecting data to support life's most critical decision. Compromise would be totally inappropriate.
Rosie comes back to his apartment after dinner date falls over (he beat up the two bouncers). He won't let her help prepare the meal, and recommends that she reads a book. "I watched Rosie walk to the bookshelf, briefly peruse the contents, then walk away. Perhaps she used IBM rather than Apple, although many of the manuals applied to both."
Tillman takes on the Father Project - using his genetics testing equipment to ID Rosie's genetic dad. She makes it clear that it is quite a big deal to her, but when he gets results of first test, and she says "I've never consciously thought of him as my father", he brusquely says "He's not". "Wow," said Rosie. "Ever thought of being a grief counsellor?" "No. I considered a number of careers, but all in the sciences. My interpersonal skills are not strong."
Friend asks "You have had sex before?" "Of course. My doctor is strongly in favour." I think the value of regular sex has been known for some time. I explained further. "It's just that adding a second person makes it more complicated."
"Asperger's isn't a fault," demurs Don Tillman, the genetics-professor hero of Australian author Graeme Simsion's amusingly sparky debut novel. "It's potentially a major advantage. Asperger's syndrome is associated with organisation, focus, innovative thinking and rational detachment." The none-too-subtle comic irony here is that Tillman ticks all these boxes in spades and has practically gate-crashed the autistic spectrum himself, though, amazingly, no doctor has yet diagnosed him. For the protagonist, it is not God that is in the details, but science, which he applies to every aspect of his life, from calibrating his diet and his aikido practice times to optimising his sleeping patterns.
Despite possessing social skills that are invisible to the naked eye and an empathy bypass that Mr Spock would envy ("Humans often fail to see what is close to them and obvious to others," is one Vulcan-like observation), Tillman sets out to find the perfect partner by devising the Wife Project, a "purpose-built, scientifically valid" questionnaire to filter out the tardy, the time wasters and the intemperate, among other exacting criteria. Step forward vivacious, whip-smart Rosie Jarman - barmaid by night, PhD student by day - who flunks the wife test, but (not dissimilarly to her Shakespearian namesake, Rosalind, the heroine of As You Like It) stands Tillman's regimented world on its head. Thus, he becomes embroiled in a madcap and sometimes uproarious shaggy-dog story involving a DNA hunt to identify Rosie's biological father - a project that keeps the hero up way past his allotted bedtime.
To some degree, the episodic structure of Simsion's fiction, along with its romcom tropes and set pieces ("the Jacket Incident", "the Bianca Disaster"), lays bare the book's origins as a screenplay. It is not unusual to see novels filleted into successful scripts, of course, but there are fewer instances of screenplays being fleshed out into successful novels, or at least not without the seams showing, which is occasionally the case here. It is also hard to escape the fact that Tillman is essentially a one-note narrator, the novelty of whose voice inevitably wears off. There are, after all, only so many times across 300 pages that the hero can put his foot in it without some necessary modulation of authorial tone.
However, Simsion deserves credit for fashioning a good-hearted, agreeably lightweight novel that manages to celebrate difference and champion tolerance without seeming annoyingly worthy or patronising its hero. You sense, too, it is the kind of off-the-wall caper that, rather like Tillman, is pretty much impervious to criticism, and that, having already earned the author £1.2m in publishers' advances, it won't be long before a Hollywood studio is touting it as the next Silver-Linings Playbook.
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