The Rosie Effect
Expected publication date: December 30, 2014
288 pages (ARC e-book)
I read a silly little book earlier this year that I described as “complete fluff destined for the big screen.” I gave it a 2.5 and said it was “as mindless and happy-go-lucky as any chick-flick.”
A few months later, another blogger had an entirely different read on the same book. He said it was “one of the most profound novels [he’s] read in a long time” and described it as “an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book.”
The book? The Rosie Project, the debut novel by Graeme Simsion about Don Tillman, an extremely socially awkward man on a scientific search for the perfect mate (“the Wife Project”). Hilarity ensues when, instead, he finds Rosie, a smart and fun woman who fails to meet a number of his necessary criteria for ideal compatibility (She’s a smoker! She’s vegetarian! She’s often tardy! She has spiky red hair!!). Predictably, they fall in love.
The glowing reviewer? Bill Gates.
I think it’s safe to say that Gates identified a bit more with The Rosie Project’s protagonist, Don Tillman, than I did. Although it is never explicitly stated, it is clear that Don falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. He is highly structured (he uses a “Standardized Meal System” to optimize efficiency in the kitchen), has difficulty empathizing with others, makes decisions based on logic and reason (rather than emotion), is repulsed by physical contact, and approaches all issues and problems as scientifically as possible. As Gates notes on his blog: “Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.”
Not surprisingly, Gates also really enjoyed the upcoming sequel, The Rosie Effect, which will be released later this month. With the opening lines, it’s clear that Don Tillman is back in all of his quirky and awkward glory:
Orange juice was not scheduled for Fridays. Although Rosie and I had abandoned the Standardized Meal System, resulting in an improvement in “spontaneity” at the expense of shopping time, food inventory, and wastage, we had agreed that each week should include three alcohol-free days. Without formal scheduling, this target proved difficult to achieve, as I had predicted. Rosie eventually saw the logic of my solution.
Fridays and Saturdays were obvious days on which to consume alcohol. Neither of us had classes on the weekend. We could sleep late and possibly have sex.
Sex was absolutely not allowed to be scheduled, at least not by explicit discussion, but I had become familiar with the sequence of events likely to precipitate it: a blueberry muffin from Blue Sky Bakery, a triple shot of espresso from Otha’s, removal of my shirt, and my impersonation of Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. I had learned to do all four in the same sequence on every occasion, as my intention would then be obvious.
(Want more? You can read the first two chapters of the book here.)
Don and Rosie are now married and living in New York, where Don works and Rosie studies at Columbia. The orange juice on a Friday is, of course, part of Rosie’s reveal to Don that they are expecting a baby. This is unexpected news to Don and, thus, throws him into a tizzy and forces him to embark on “the Baby Project.” His scientific approach (which includes observing children on a playground) creates difficulties for him and puts him in a number of uncomfortable situations. And, predictably, his behavior puts significant strain on his relationship with Rosie. Due in part to a series of misunderstandings, Rosie believes that Don is not excited about the idea of fatherhood . . . and Don begins to fear that he’s simply not wired for the job.
The concept behind the Rosie books is cute. Don Tillman is a fun protagonist whom you can either relate to (if you’re Bill Gates) or empathize with. The book has all the appeal of any rom-com (not super thinky, sweet, quirky and likable characters, tritely happy ending) and is destined to be made into a movie (recent articles—like this one—report that some high-powered names are now attached to the movie adaptation).
If you read The Rosie Project, then you know exactly what you’re getting into with The Rosie Effect. Graeme Simsion is nothing if not consistent. Like its predecessor, this book is breezy, occasionally funny, and fast-paced. All of the main characters from The Rosie Project appear again (with a couple of new additions), and there are a number of references to the first book.
Unfortunately, this one isn’t quite as enjoyable as the first. The Rosie Project is a little more fun and a little more light-hearted. The Rosie Effect focuses more on the issues that Don’s behavior and habits create (relationship difficulties most significantly) in a harsher and arguably more realistic way than The Rosie Project.
Despite Bill Gates’ proclamations, neither of these books is particularly deep or profound, so it’s better when they stick to the lighter, goofier side. The books are strongest when they focus on the outlandishly funny results of Don’s behavior, rather than the sadly realistic ones.
Who should read it: Mom (i.e., people who read and enjoyed The Rosie Project).
DISCLOSURE: I received a free advanced-reading copy of this book from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Want to read along with me? A review of this book is coming soon:
- The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (the #1 Indie Next List pick for January 2014 and an Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick in December 2013)