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The Rosie Project    by Graeme Simsion Amazon.com order for
Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2014 (2013)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

Most people have heard the term Autism Spectrum, which appears to have become a catch-all phrase to pigeonhole children who exhibit behaviour that does not fit into our perception of social normalcy. Simsion's book, The Rosie Project, centres on an intelligent adult who most definitely exhibits many signs of having autism he's a professor of genetics, is analytical and well informed, but is also inflexible, obsessive, and particularly socially inept, all key features of the autist.

Professor Don Tillman, at the age of 39 and quite the catch he has a good job, is physically fit and good looking has decided that he needs to find a wife. Don devises a questionnaire to weed out what he considers 'undesirable traits' smoking, tardiness, overweight, inability to cook, and drinking (although he did revise the last criterion to 'drinking excessively') and enlists the help of Gene, a colleague at Melbourne university, and his wife Claudia, a psychologist, the only two people whom Don can call friends. As Don himself notes, 'I am not good at verbal communication', and, 'My interpersonal skills are not strong'.

Enter Rosie Jarman, a psychology PhD candidate who bartends at night. Don mistakenly believes that Rosie has been sent by Gene as a prospect for his Wife Project when, in fact, she is only looking for the answer to a rather silly question about whether testicle size is related to monogamy. Taking Gene's advice about social norms, Don immediately asks Rosie to dinner; the chaotic evening that ensues goes against all Don's programmed-to-the-minute schedule. Don does seem to enjoy the evening, mostly because he's completely ruled Rosie out as a potential wife she was late, smokes, does not like to cook and drinks a fair amount - he sees the evening as a one off. However, Don's interest in genetics does get him sucked into The Father Project, an attempt to find Rosie's biological father through DNA sampling of candidates identified as being in the same graduating class as her long-dead mother (who apparently had a one-night stand at the graduation dinner with Rosie arriving nine months later).

Don, convinced that he can master anything - from ballroom dancing to cocktail mixology - through study, discipline and application, is originally oblivious to his attraction to Rosie and this book relates the havoc that is unleashed in Don's life as his emotions are released.

On one level this book is a delightful and amusing read, helping us, through humour, to understand something of those who are differently abled. However, on another level, it leaves us rather skeptical how can a highly intelligent geneticist (who has lectured on autism) not acknowledge that he fits many of the facets of autism? We are told early on that, 'Most adults with Asperger's Syndrome don't know that they have it', and it is unconvincing that Simsion's Don Tillman is unaware that he fits the autism spectrum criteria, especially when he states, 'Unlike many people, I am very comfortable with repetition', and, 'I am not good at non-verbal communication'.

Graeme Simsion has given an excellent depiction of the inflexibility and obsessive nature of autists, but are we to believe that inside each autistic person is a normal personality waiting to be liberated, in Don's case through the love of Rosie? In real life, most autism spectrum people would be flummoxed by emotions they would be more inclined to stick to their logical, predictable lives than mess it all up with life as a couple.

But all criticism aside, I can recommend The Rosie Project as a most enjoyable read.

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