One of the highlights of my reading year (so far) has been Graeme Simsion’s Rosie Project. It was funny, heart-warming and gave so many interesting insights into the mind of its hero, Don Tillman, an academic apparently somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum, in his search for the perfect partner. The path of love doesn’t run smoothly (when does it ever in good fiction?) and most of the humour comes from the seeming mismatch between Don and the Rosie of the title.
However, since this book opens with Don and Rosie, married and living in New York, then it should come as no surprise to find that they did get together. And once again the laughs (and the sadness) come from the difficulties of the relationship – and particularly from how Don deals with the prospect of becoming a father. I would imagine that most fathers-to-be feel at least some trepidation when they first hear that tiny feet will soon be pattering – for someone like Don it is going to be even more of a life changing experience. Throw into the mix Gene (with the globe-trotting libido), a social worker with an axe to grind and an aging English rock star with a real-ale bar in his Manhattan penthouse and you can see where the comedy is coming from.
What raises both this book and the Rosie Project above being just another funny love story is Don. Because he is the narrator in both books we see the world through his eyes – this gives us a chance to begin to understand just how different life can be for those on the spectrum. This gives an undercurrent of slight sadness – not that Don is sad, but that you feel sympathy for his efforts to be understood. At one point he has just delivered a baby (not his own) in the presence of the social worker who, for slightly complicated plot reasons, thinks the child is his. The social worker accuses Don of being unfeeling and we get a sudden flash of insight into the real strain he is under constantly. He says ‘I was suddenly angry. I wanted to shake not just Lydia but the whole world of people who do not understand the difference between control of emotion and lack of it, and who make a totally illogical connection between inability to read others’ emotions and inability to experience their own’. And it just seems so important that people understand that…
When The Rosie Project was released in paperback I was lucky enough to hear the author talking about his work in Leeds. In the audience were also staff from a local group which works with autistic and asperger’s adults in West Yorkshire – the book has been a big hit with their service-users which suggests to me that the message being given is not only entertaining but informative. And I think it is one that everyone should be reading.