–Graeme Simsion – $A29.99 – $NZ 37 – Text Publishing
Don Tillman, a professor of genetics, has a difficult time interacting with people generally and women specifically. He hasn’t even made it to a second date. Early on he explains it is because some women are late, which he hates, or that they don’t really understand the pragmatic and obvious things in life. For instance, at the end of one date, the woman suggests she’d like apricot ice cream.
Don insists that because all ice cream tastes essentially the same, owing to the chilling of the tastes buds, particularly fruit flavoured ones. He suggests a taste test to prove his point. “But by the time the serving person had prepared them, and I turned to ask Elizabeth to close her eyes for the experiment, she had gone.”
Don decides that he wants to get married, though, and the best way to do this is to create a questionnaire and The Wife Project becomes his main focus. The reader knows that Don is autistic, on some level. He has a difficult time understanding and connecting to other individuals and recognising the importance of social rituals.
He wants a woman who is punctual, doesn’t smoke, is logical. Like him. Enter Rosie Jarman who is a barmaid, late, drinks, smokes, and is on a quest to find out who her father is. Don becomes intrigued by The Father Project, as he dubs it, and then by Rosie herself.
The hardest part of the book was understanding how Don connects with Rosie. We’re told that he does and I found Rosie fun as a reader, but it was difficult to find consistency with Don “all ice creams are the same why are you leaving upset?” with Don “I don’t care that you violate every principle that I thought was important to me and I’ll change for you.”
Essentially, as Don and Rosie begin to interact more, Don’s feelings for her begin to have an affect on his behaviour. In some ways I felt like Rosie almost cured Don of his autism.
Hurtling back to town, in a red Porsche driven by a beautiful woman, with the song playing, I had the sense of standing on the brink of another world. I recognised the feeling, which, if anything, became stronger as the rain started falling and the convertible roof malfunctioned so we were unable to raise it. It was the same feeling that I had experienced looking over the city after the Balcony Meal, and again after Rosie had written down her phone number. Another world, another life, proximate but inaccessible.
As a romance reader, the romance was unconvincing despite the fact that I enjoyed both Don and Rosie individually. But I struggled with Don’s presentation. His ability to pick up on social cues depended on what the scene called for. If we were supposed to laugh, his social cue inference skill was low. If we were supposed to see him falling in love with Rosie, his social cue inference skill was high.
Juxtapose this passage, for instance:
“What’s your poison?” said Amghad.
“What do you want to drink?”
Of course. But why, why, why can’t people just say what they mean?
I nodded in polite agreement. Bianca was exhibiting exactly the characteristics I was looking for. There was every chance she would be perfect. But for some reason, my instincts were rebelling.
In the taxi, Rosie said to me, “You should have practiced with different beats. You”re not as smart as I thought you were.”
I just looked out the window of the taxi.
Then she said, “No way. No f….ing way. You did, didn’t you? That’s worse. You’d rather make a fool of yourself in front of everyone than tell her she didn’t float your boat.”
Even at the end, Don talks about falling in love which seems to be such an emotion based, rather than evidenced based statement. It was these obvious variances that made the book have a certain manipulative feel to it. But setting that aside, the story is cute and often quite humorous. And more importantly, it felt different than the books I’d be reading before.
I didn’t like The Father Project part of the book. I understood that it brought them together but it overtakes part of the story and has a fairly unsatisfactory ending but I chalked that up to being Literature. Literature books don’t like clean endings no matter if the entire book spends its time hurtling toward it.
Don is the narrator of the entire book (no switching alternate points of view). As with any first person book, if a reader doesn’t respond to Don, the book is going to be an utter failure.