The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion (2013), is a romantic comedy in the vein of As Good as It Gets and Silver Linings Playbook. A little quirkier, a little more human than other offerings in the genre, but ultimately delivering the feel-good romantic triumph that makes RomCom such a joy.
The enormously successful novel stars Don Tillman, a talented but socially-inept genetics professor with a rigidly logical approach to life. Unselfconsciously literal and immune to social cues, Don displays many signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. He schedules each hour the day, eats the same seven meals each week, and tackles each new task with focused precision and rigorous application of the scientific method.
At 39, Don feels ready to marry but, as he explains in the first pages of the book, he has abandoned “the traditional dating paradigm…on the basis that the probability of success did not justify the effort and negative experiences” (p. 3). Instead, Don applies his trademark rationality, and develops a questionnaire designed to identify the perfect partner.
Don’s close friends Gene, a philandering psychology professor, and his wife Claudia, a clinical psychologist, try to assist with Don’s “Wife Project,” but without much success. Until Rosie appears in Don’s office. When she explains that Gene referred her, Don mistakenly assumes that Rosie is candidate for the Wife Project and invites her to dinner. Sparkling screwball hi-jinx ensue.
After their first memorable evening together, Don finds Rosie illogically appealing. She meets none of his requirements for a spouse, but, irrationally, he wants to see her again. So, he invents a reason. Don volunteers to use his genetics expertise to help Rosie identify her biological father. As the pair interview possible candidates and surreptitiously collect DNA, their relationship evolves. But can Don really win Rosie over?
It’s impossible not to like and root for Don. His inability to fully interpret social interactions makes his narration delightfully engaging, allowing readers a level of understanding Don himself lacks. His many missteps are entertaining, but his underlying sweetness and charm shine through. Don doesn’t have normal empathy. He does not cry at movies, or intuit other people’s emotions. What he does have is an earnest desire to make the people he cares about happy, and a willingness to do whatever it takes.
Its easy to imagine The Rosie Project as a Howard Hawks film (think Bringing Up Baby). The book has a distinctly cinematic feel. That’s no accident. As the author explains in his “Acknowledgements” The Rosie Project began as a screen play.
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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones (What else?)