The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project by Graeme C. Simsion
The Rosie Project by Graeme C. Simsion
Don Tillman is thirty-nine years old, tall, intelligent, physically fit, and earns an above-average income as an associate professor of Genetics at a university in Melbourne, Australia. He is also an accomplished cook and has a black belt in Aikido. Yet he is still single. Don wants to marry, but his forays into dating never result in a second date. Logically, as he sees it, he should be attractive to a wide range of women. On the other hand, and just as logically, his difficulty making friends and awkwardness in social situations might be why he has never been in a romantic relationship.

When the book opens, Don has exactly two friends: Gene, fellow geneticist and colleague at the university, and Gene’s wife, Claudia, a clinical psychologist. For the past several years, Gene and Claudia have tried unsuccessfully to help him find a wife. According to Don, this is because “their approach was based on the traditional dating paradigm.” After having tried it, Don has concluded that the “probability of success did not justify the effort and negative experiences.”

One of these negative experiences, the “Apricot Ice Cream Disaster,” occurred on a blind date Claudia set up for Don with one of her friends, a computer scientist named Elizabeth. When Claudia comments beforehand that Elizabeth “has very firm ideas,” Don asks if they are “evidence based.” “I guess so,” is Claudia’s reply. Despite his extreme nervousness in dating situations and overall opinion of restaurants as “minefields for the socially inept,” Don agrees to meet Elizabeth at a Thai place for dinner. Not only does he manage “to survive the meal without being criticized for any social errors” by his date, he is delighted by Elizabeth’s knowledge of simulation algorithms, and envisions the possibility of a permanent relationship. Then the dessert menu arrives, and Elizabeth announces she doesn’t like “Asian desserts.” To Don’s thinking, such a statement constitutes an “unsound generalization, based on limited experience,” but uses it as an opportunity to suggest that they have dessert at a nearby ice cream parlor.

Elizabeth agrees, as long as she can have apricot. Although apricot is one of the many flavors the parlor serves, that night they are out of it. Don suggests she make a second choice, but she tells him that since they do not have apricot, she will pass. Instead of letting the matter go (as Claudia later tells him he should have!) and enjoying his chocolate chili and licorice double cone, Don attempts to explain (in detail) the physiology of taste bud chilling and that because of this, ice creams (especially fruit flavors) essentially taste the same. He goes on to imply that Elizabeth would not be able to differentiate between mango and peach. “They’re completely different,” she tells him. “If you can’t tell mango from peach, that’s your problem.” A true scientist, Don attempts to resolve their disagreement with a simple experiment. He orders two small cones, one mango and one peach, then turning around to ask Elizabeth to close her eyes for a taste test, he discovers she has left without him.

Six years earlier, there was the “Pig’s Trotter Disaster.” On Gene’s advice, Don decides to invite a woman over for dinner, thereby not only impressing her with his culinary expertise, but also making it unnecessary for him to undergo the stress of a restaurant. Through the internet match making service he is registered with, Don asks Bethany, whose internet profile says nothing about vegetarianism, to have dinner with him. Don is an omnivore with a particular fondness for all types of meat, and so he prepares a magnificent meal featuring various parts of the animal, e.g., brains, tongue, kidneys, pancreas, etc. The appetizer Don prepares is fried pig’s trotters, of which Bethany eats very little, commenting that she is not “big on pig’s trotters.” After he tells her the courses to follow, Bethany tells him she is a vegetarian. She offers to take him to a restaurant, but after all the preparation Don had put into the meal, he was not about to just leave it. Don eats dinner alone, and does not see Bethany again.

After these (and several other) such disasters, Don, with help from Gene and Claudia, comes up with the Wife Project, an online questionnaire intended to find interesting candidates and weed out those with habits and traits that Don finds undesirable. Smoking, drinking, lack of organization, vegetarianism, STDs, jewelry and makeup are just a few of them. By means of the Wife Project, valuable time and effort can be saved and actually produce better results than dating.

But just as Don thinks he finally has a handle on his matrimonial future, Rosie enters his life.

Rosie Jarman is a doctoral student in psychology, but otherwise she is everything he thinks he does not want. Rosie drinks (and works nights as a barmaid), smokes, wears makeup and quite a bit of jewelry, is extremely disorganized, and is a vegetarian (except for sustainably sourced seafood). Don learns that Rosie wants to find out who her biological father is and creates the Father Project, collecting DNA samples from possible suspects, a venture not without some very funny incidents. Although Don gets over two hundred and seventy responses to his questionnaire, he eventually realizes that Rosie is the one he wants.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme SimsionThere is a point in the book where Don briefly considers the possibility that he has Asperger’s Syndrome or is otherwise on the autism spectrum, but the author does not offer a diagnosis. For Don Tillman, it is perfectly okay being “weird,” and Rosie is perfectly okay being with Don.

The Rosie Project is clever, funny, and at times, surprisingly affecting. Overall, it is a really good read.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
The Rosie Effect is a sequel to The Rosie Project, which finds Don and Rosie living in New York City. Don is a visiting professor of Genetics at Columbia, and Rosie is enrolled in medical school there. With Don’s help, Gene arranges a sabbatical at Columbia, and for a time moves in with Don and Rosie. An unexpected pregnancy complicates the couple’s burgeoning relationship, but Don manages to bring his brand of unintentional humor to most situations, just as he does in The Rosie Project. There are some very comical scenes in The Rosie Effect, especially towards the end. My one concern is that I found the character of Rosie somewhat less appealing than she had been in the first novel, whereas Don’s character was consistent throughout both works.

-Elka Frankel


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