Friday, 29 March 2013

Lobster on Tuesdays

The scheduled post today was on Richard Ford's Canada, but although I'm enjoying the book very much, I haven't yet finished reading it! So a short review in the meantime.

With all the pre-publication hype surrounding this novel, and the massive advance given to its debut author, I was intrigued to find out what all the fuss was about - and hoping that it wasn't just the superficial similarities to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time that justified the excitement. Thankfully, the latter turned out not to be the case. This novel is immediately engaging, funny, and unputdownable - I zoomed through it over the course of a Saturday - but possibly sacrifices depth in consequence. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics who has decided that he would like to find a life partner, despite his difficulties with women and social situations, and devises a detailed questionnaire as part of his 'Wife Project' to find the perfect match. Inevitably, the woman he falls for - Rosie Jarman - matches none of his criteria, and he is forced to invent a spurious second project to justify spending so much time with her, the 'Father Project', as Rosie is hunting for her biological father. It is evident from the start of the novel that Don has Asperger's - indeed, Graeme Simison spends rather too much time nudging and winking over the subject to create some rather forced humour, introducing Don as he is giving a lecture on the topic, and having Don think things like 'people often don't notice things about themselves that are right in front of their noses'. Therefore, hijinks ensue as Don's reading of people, events and situations continuously comes into conflict with reality.

On one level, The Rosie Project isn't great literature, but it is a great read. There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments in the novel - one particularly memorable scene is when Don and Rosie man a cocktail bar to collect DNA samples from potential fathers, and Don becomes an instant cocktail whizz, memorising the exact proportions of ingredients in each drink and cross-matching them with customers. It's also heartwarming in a very old-fashioned way, reminding me of some of Jojo Moyes's work, especially Me Before You. (I toyed with the idea of comparing this novel with David Nicholls's One Day, but decided that One Day was too sharply observational and, in places, bitter, to be a fit comparison - which gives you some idea of how sweet this is). Don and Rosie are instantly appealing as characters, and you can't help but root for Don as he clumsily goes about trying to find a woman who might be attracted to him. I also appreciated the fact that Simison didn't draw a neat line between Don's social problems, caused by his Asperger's, and the rest of the world's difficulties - a scene at a dating event is particularly illuminating, when all three men there immediately make faux pas, and Don feels reassured that he isn't the only one who says the wrong thing.

On another level, this novel is interesting on the surface but less satisfying underneath. Although I'm not an expert on the autistic spectrum, I felt uneasy about the depiction of Asperger's in the book. Briefly, Don's Asperger's seems to only cause amusing and solvable problems for him, while not hindering him in any of the really important stuff - holding down his competitive job, meeting attractive women other than Rosie (there are at least two other candidates in the novel who seem interested) and having some friends. I also felt that I learnt no more about the condition than I did from reading Curious Incident (which I thought was also a very shallow treatment of the topic) or even popular fiction like Jodi Picoult's House Rules. There were numerous opportunities for giving the reader more insight into Don's daily struggles other than gimmicks such as his meal plans, and I felt Simison skimped on this important dimension of the story. The plot is also both unrealistic and predictable - the solution to the 'Father Project' hinges on such a well-known genetic fact than anybody with a good GCSE in Biology should be able to work it out. I was unsurprised to find out that Simison initially wrote this novel as a screenplay, and I actually think it would work very well on screen.

I would recommend this as a fun and engrossing read - but don't expect anything spectacular.


  1. FYI

    Also: a City University student is advertising for volunteers to take part in a study on the romantic relationships of those diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

  2. Thanks for the link - I'm definitely interested in learning more about autism, so will check it out!