Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author & publisher. In no way does this affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
Genre: General Fiction
Publication date: January 30, 2013
Love isn’t an exact science — but no one told Don Tillman. A handsome thirty-nine-year-old geneticist, Don’s never had a second date. So he devises The Wife Project, a scientific test to find the perfect partner. Enter Rosie — ‘the world’s most incompatible woman’ — throwing Don’s safe, ordered life into chaos. Just what is this unsettling, alien emotion he’s feeling?
I wouldn’t have picked this up if it wasn’t for the plethora of ‘autism fiction’ lists this book is on. As an autistic person with opinions, I knew that I had to read it for myself. It’s been a while since I read it, so excuse my lack of detail.
I’m not going to write much about the actual story because there are plenty of reviews about that and I don’t have much to add, but I am going to tell you what it’s like to read this book as an autistic person.
It’s never explicitly stated in the text that Don is autistic, but it’s hinted at. In the beginning of the book, Don, being a professor, gives a lecture on Asperger’s Syndrome and continues to think about it throughout the book, but does not realize he himself is autistic. I find this highly unrealistic, as any adult, especially one as intelligent as him, would put together the pieces (the puzzle pieces, if you will), and pursue an official diagnosis in order to get answers. This shows that the author probably thinks autistic people are a bit naive, and that irks me.
The depiction of autism wasn’t at all well done, but I didn’t feel that it was highly offensive either. Don is a straight white man with (undiagnosed) autism who shows all the signs that the general public knows (or think they know) about Asperger’s Syndrome; difficulty with basic social interaction, touch-averse, little to no empathy, lack of emotion, intelligent. Although these stereotypical autistic people do exist (but they do have emotions, they just express them diffferently), I can’t help but feel disappointed that yet another popular novel only shows this part of the autism spectrum.
I’ve done a bit of my own research on the research Graeme Simsion has done for this book, and to be completely honest, I think I spent more time reading interviews than he read anything about autism spectrum disorders. I found out that his research into Asperger’s Syndrome consisted of having worked in IT for 25+ years and knowing some parents with autistic kids. He has explicitly stated that “nothing of Don comes from a textbook”. As if that’s a good thing.
Don Tillman is a walking stereotype, exactly what you’d expect from an author who knows nothing about autism and hasn’t bothered to read up on it in order to represent this vulnerable group of people in a positive way.
When people tell me how funny they thought The Rosie Project was, I can’t help but be a bit wary. I worry that they find my autistic traits, like Don’s, something to be laughed at or to be pitied. I can laugh at myself, but when non-autistic people (who aren’t my close friends) do, I feel a bit uncomfortable. Also, at the end of some of the editions of this book there is a link to Autism Speaks, so fuck that shit.
I didn’t like Don, I didn’t like Rosie, but somehow, I still sort of liked this book. It reads like a rom-com, so if you’re into that, it’s not a bad read. Just read around the terrible representation!
“I asked you here tonight because when you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
“Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant. It’s potentially a major advantage. Asperger’s syndrome is associated with organization, focus, innovative thinking, and rational detachment.”
“You’re unbelievable,’ said Rosie. ‘Look at me when I’m talking.’
I kept looking out the window. I was already over-stimulated.
‘I know what you look like.”