‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion


Fiction – hardcover; Michael Joseph; 329 pages; 2013. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

I often think that voice is everything when it comes to the enjoyment of a novel, particularly if that voice is distinctive, unique, intimate and funny.

The first person narrator in Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project has one of those voices. It’s droll and original and quirky and often laugh-out-loud funny. I read this book with a mixture of delight and joy, and found it the perfect antidote to a slew of much harder hitting novels.

Offbeat search for a life partner

The Rosie Project is a lovely offbeat story about a socially inadequate man trying to find a wife. That man is Don Tillman, a 39-year-old professor of genetics at a university in Melbourne, who doesn’t seem to have much luck with women. That’s probably because he’s unconventional — in all senses of the word. He has odd fashion sense, lacks empathy with other people and doesn’t have the faintest clue about small talk or social niceties. He is the type of person that lacks any kind of “situation sense” . Everything is run to a very tight and precise schedule, right down to a minute-by-minute blow of his entire day.

This compulsive need to have everything timetabled follows through into Don’s search for a “life partner”. He devises a rather complicated 16-page multiple-choice questionnaire which he gives to prospective candidates so that he can filter out those women he thinks will be unsuitable. If you smoke, you’re out. Ditto if you are vegetarian, have no cooking skills or lack punctuality.

As Don sets out to find the ideal woman for him, his project gets sidelined by Rosie, an academic (and barmaid) with a penchant for cigarettes, laziness and lateness, who seeks his professional help in using DNA analysis to determine her biological father. A new project is set up to acquire the DNA of potential “suspects” in somewhat underhanded and dubious ways. As it evolves, the pair find themselves spending more and more time together — but can Don put aside his prejudices to accept Rosie for who she is, and not what she isn’t?

A series of funny set pieces

The novel is structured around a series of humourous set pieces designed to show Don’s wacky and unusual side, including his extraordinary ability to absorb vast quantities of information in a short space of time. For instance, Don learns an exhaustive amount of dance moves and sexual positions, he learns how to make every single cocktail in a cocktail guide, and he manages to teach himself all the rules about baseball without having ever seen a game.

Pretty much everything he does is hilarious — even if he doesn’t quite see it that way. This is what makes the book work, because the reader knows that Don is “different” you can’t help but predict the way in which ordinary people will react to his behaviour. It’s not so much that you are laughing at Don, but the people around him who get caught up in his bizarre escapades.

Of course, the entire novel is preposterous — and the way in which Don changes over time so that he becomes more and more normal probably wouldn’t happen in reality — but that is all part of the fun.

And Don’s voice, so beautifully dull, dry and monotonous, is a treat to read because it so perfectly captures his personality. I thoroughly enjoyed spending so much time in his company and can understand why other readers claim to have fallen in love with him. He might wear quick-dry clothes and cycling attire on his dates, but he is utterly charming and strangely beguiling in an odd sort of way.

The Rosie Project is published in the UK in hardcover and ebook on 11 April. It is already available in Australia, where it has received many favourable reviews, including this one by Lisa Hill at ANZLitLovers.


9 thoughts on “‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion

  1. Thanks for the link, Kim, and I hope you had a nice break over Easter?
    I think we all like reading about falling in love when it seems as if it might never happen. Someone for all of us, no matter how odd we are, yeah!


  2. This is on it’s way to me from the library at the moment and I am really looking forward to reading it! This also seems to be a book that a lot of people like, no matter what type of book they normally enjoy reading!


  3. It sounds good. Did anyone else see the review on the ABC Book Club? Most of the panelists viewed it favorably, except for Marieke.


  4. I don’t fit with Don’s requirements : I’m vegetarian and have absolutely no cooking skills (many victims/people could testify 😉
    Seriously, I am not sure that the writing would please me. I highly appreciate that the voice of the character suits the character itself, but in this case, I doubt being able to bear Don.


  5. I’d love to read this, having read your review, and having enjoyed your recommended books in the past. I’ve been reading a string of Australian books recently, including: All that I am, Foal’s Bread, Landscape of Desolation, and Past the Shallows … so another Australian author would be a treat.


  6. This sounds much like the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory in which the main character Sheldon Cooper, a genius physicist, requires not only his ‘girl’ friend (he says: she’s a girl, she’s a friend, she’s NOT a ‘girlfriend’!) to agree to a lengthy (39 pp. ?) ‘girlfriend’ agreement, when their relationship progresses to holding hands (but only for specific purposes!) but also requires his roommate Leonard to agree to an even more lengthy agreement which includes everything from a bathroom schedule to what they eat on a specific night. The neighbor across the hall is a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, trying to break into acting in L.A. Sheldon has a hard time communicating with her as does she with him but as the show has progressed, they have become friends. Sheldon tells those around him, “I’m not crazy…my mother had me tested!” A fun show, one which we watch all the time.
    I look forward to reading The Rosie Project–it sounds like it would be great too!


  7. I loved the Rosie Project and laughed all the way through it but a friend hated it and never bothered finishing it so subjective is humour.


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