If you have ever enjoyed an episode of The Big Bang Theory, you will be delighted by the book The Rosie Project. Pitch-perfect dialogue, excellent characterization, romance elements, and an original concept, ensure that this book will appeal to a wide audience. I plan to give this book as a Christmas gift to a friend, and I would even consider a second purchase for my 19-year-old daughter! Originally written as a screenplay, the author chose to turn the script into a novel after receiving positive feedback.
Don Tillman is a genetic researcher who is uncomfortable in social settings. His colleagues, students, and members of the Melbourne community find him slightly comic, as his clothes (think Sheldon Cooper and add a splash of Gore-Tex), abrupt comments (Don lacks empathy and an awareness of social etiquette), and awkward mannerisms set him up for a relatively isolated existence. Don is clearly wired differently and may suffer from bipolar disorder, OCD, Asperger’s or autism, but no definitive diagnosis was ever made. He sets rigid standards for himself and runs his life by a strict schedule. He has a brilliant Standardised Meal System, where he cooks seven different gourmet meals (one for each day of the week), then repeats, ensuring that no time and effort is wasted wondering what to cook. Of course, he has one pantry shelf for each day of the week complete with wine.
As Don is our narrator, we see the world through his unreliable, regimented, unemotional, awkward, and confused eyes. When he meets someone new, he describes them by sex, age, and BMI. Before he meets Rosie, he had four friends in his entire lifetime – his sister (who died), Daphne (who slowly faded away with Alzheimer’s), and his married friends, Gene and Claudia.
Don solicits help from Claudia and Gene, to complete his Wife Project (which is quite a grand project considering he had never progressed to the second date stage). After his initial attempts to find a partner prove futile, he comes up with an unconventional solution that appeals to his scientific brain: a questionnaire. The questionnaire is “a purpose-built, scientifically valid instrument incorporating current best practice to filter out the time wasters, the disorganized, the ice-cream discriminators…the religious fanatics, the vegans, the sports watchers, the creationists, the smokers, the scientifically illiterate…” It is not surprising that there are few women that survive the rigours of the questionnaire experience. The survey participants provide some of the many laughs that are to be elicited by this novel. The “perfect” questionnaire candidate, Bianca, and their dancing date at the university ball, is a hysterical disaster. When the jive dancing leads to tripping and ill-timed movements, Don attempts to save the day by adding some specialized moves not dependent on synchronised timing or body contact such as “the running man, milking the cow, and the fishing imitation” which required Don to reel in Bianca.
Miscommunication leads Don to meet and aid Rosie, an educated, independent barmaid on a quest to find her biological father. “The Father Project” allows Don to grow closer to Rosie, and to have some adventures outside of his normally scheduled routines. The night of cocktail-making at the golf club is my favourite scene in the whole book, as Don proves wildly successfully as a server (a great memory is key), bartender, and DNA sample collector. Rosie is a wild, independent, spontaneous individual, who finds Don intelligent, misguided, exasperating, and uniquely original. In response to Don’s schedule obsession, she simply adjusts the clock on his oven (thereby creating a new Rosie time zone), demands wine and sets the table on the balcony complete with silver cutlery which had never been used before. Despite her flaws, Don finds himself drawn to Rosie and for once his emotions are not aligned with logic.
There is no need for a spoiler alert…you will have to read the book yourself to discover if any sort of romantic relationship blossoms, or if Don just uses these experiences as a platform for self-discovery and self-improvement.
Book clubs that are willing to read lighter fare should consider this title. There are many interesting themes to be discussed… like seeking love in the face of great challenges, the importance of tolerance and acceptance, the objectification of women, the power of the human connection, and the human need for companionship and identity. Penguin Books Australia has a link on their website to a reading guide, complete with book club questions.
If you like The Rosie Project, try:
Courting Greta by Ramsey Hootman
Samuel is a shy, withdrawn computer programmer in need of a change in his life. He thinks a new town and a teaching job will do the trick, but when he falls for Greta, the school’s imposing tomboy gym teacher, he discovers that change can come from unexpected places. In this charming, unconventional first novel, an unlikely pair stumbles down a rough road of romance and self-discovery with all the emotional and physical baggage that middle age—and disability—can bring. VERDICT Hootman gives readers a refreshing, original love story about two socially awkward yet utterly fascinating people. Fans of John Green’s quirky lovers in The Fault in Our Stars or this year’s hot adaptation, Matthew Quirk’s Silver Linings Playbook , will want to check this one out; arriving just in time for summer, it will make a perfect beach read. Highly recommended – Library Journal
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
“They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life–steady boyfriend, close family–who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after a motorcycle accident. Will has always lived a huge life–big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel–and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy–but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living. A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common–a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?”– Provided by publisher.