Last year, Oprah revealed the list of the top 20 greatest ever romance novels according to Goodreads Reviews, and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was on it. At first, I was a little shocked, but after reading it, I had to agree.
Lately, I have been reading a lot of books about curmudgeons and how they slowly let other people into their lives. I can’t help but read about them. They are so unique and quirky. Don Tillman from The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is no different. He is a socially awkward genetics professor who tries to find a wife through a survey called The Wife Project – a 16-page survey to filter out the drinkers, smokers, and late arrivers. Awhile back, Oprah Magazine listed it as one of the top 20 greatest ever romance novels (according to Goodreads Reviews): https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/books/g26090153/best-romance-novels-of-all-time/
After reading it, I have to agree as well.
Like A Man Called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Rosie Project is about a person whose sheltered life gets interrupted by the unlikeliest of people. In this case, Don Tillman’s life gets turned upside down by a psychology student named Rosie. Even though he immediately declares that Rosie is totally unsuitable for the Wife Project, he finds himself infatuated by her and is even willing to help her find her biological father. Instinct and reason are at constant odds until he eventually realizes that Rosie has won his heart.
I found myself laughing at Don throughout the book. Although he is very intelligent and organized, it was his total ineptness in social situations that made me chuckle. I also liked how Don didn’t care about what others thought of him (until Rosie came into his life) since he basically made himself to be the class clown, and this is coming from a person who exhibited some signs of autism.
Right now I am sure that someone is saying, “Emily, since you say that you yourself exhibited some signs of autism, what do you think of how the author portrays Don and his Asperger’s?” Well reader, I go back and forth on that depiction. On one hand, I enjoyed how Don talks about the difficult notion of fitting in and him realizing that he may have Asperger’s, yet he doesn’t get a formal diagnosis because he is doing well in life as is. I also loved his limited self-awareness, especially how he brings up the idea that humans can’t see “what is close to them and obvious to others”, and but, it is towards the end that he realizes that Rosie always had feelings for him.
On the other hand, there was an instance, in which Don proclaims that he does not feel love, which sort of bothered me. As some autistic people will tell you, our feelings might be intense, but there might not be a way to express them, which leads to avoiding those kinds of emotions. At the same time, I am not going to chastise Simsion for inserting a stereotypical autistic trait. In fact, in an interview with Cathy Lamb in 2014, he mentioned that he based Don on people that he met while working in IT and in academia: https://cathylamb.org/2014/01/author-interview-graeme-simsion-the-rosie-project/. Although the author is not autistic himself, he realistically depicts Don as a human, and that is the most important thing that any author can do with their protagonists.
With the story itself, readers have complained on how predictable it is, especially if one watched the romantic comedies that the characters mention during the course of the novel. Personally, I had no problem with that because Don always has struggled to fit it with classmates, colleagues, etc. By having the book go through the various romantic comedy clichés – making over-the-top romantic gestures to someone that they don’t know, the realization that the right person was in front of them the whole time, forcing someone to go to great lengths to prove their love, etc. (https://bestlifeonline.com/romantic-comedy-cliches/), it proves that he can find love like any other romantic comedy protagonist, thus fitting in with those movies.
The only real complaint that I had was with the audiobook narrator Dan O’Grady – Australian actor who has appeared in numerous BBC shows. While O’Grady does a good job with giving Don an intelligent and socially awkward appeal in an approachable way as well as a more brash vocal performance with Gene, Don’s best friend, I found myself confused on which character he was voicing because there was very little distinction among them. I was also annoyed whenever he spoke as Rosie, for he would give her a quieter performance. Even when Rosie was angry at Don for something, O’Grady would still voice her like a mouse. This forced me to adjust my volume several times to understand what she was saying. Overall, the audiobook was solid despite the barely noticeable differences among the various characters and problems associated with voicing the title character.
In whole, The Rosie Project is a lighthearted book that I am sure that everyone will enjoy, and it deserves to be recognized by Oprah as a great romance novel. While there are times that Don can be a Sheldon Copper-like caricature, Simsion makes this up by allowing readers to travel deep inside his mind. I would also recommend readers the book instead the audiobook since one can imagine the various characters’ distinct voices better than Dan O’Grady did. For anyone who has not read the book, here is something you should now: if you meet one autistic person, YOU MET ONE AUTISTIC PERSON. There is no one size fits all. Don is only one person on the spectrum.
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