More precisely, I should say they used to stump me. Now, however, I have The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and it will pretty much be the answer to every adult looking for a novel this holiday season. I read it over vacation in June and roared with laughter. In public. There may even have been a snort or two. (There were.) Seriously, this is the funniest book I've read this year, and it's certainly the funniest book I've read in recent memory, including humorist writing like Tina Fey's Bossypants or Ellen DeGeneres's Seriously, I'm Kidding. I liked it so much that I read it again four months later in preparation for the author's appearance at my store. Now it hangs out in the kitchen and I read it over breakfast or while my husband is making dinner, dipping into it here and there, and you know what? It's still funny.
Here's the 4-1-1: Don Tillman is a professor of genetics at an Australian university. He's brilliant, loyal, and longing for a life partner. You see, Don Tillman gets a lot of first dates but he's never been on a second one due to a wide range of behavioral quirks. He's got Aspberger's, but you wouldn't say he suffers from it--more like he triumphs from it. He creates a multi-page questionnaire to weed out unlikely candidates for a wife, sincere but misguided in the belief that scientific method will prevail when more traditional outlets for dating have failed him.
Enter Rosie, sent to Don by his colleague in the psych department, looking for help discovering her birth father. Don thinks his colleague has sent Rosie as part of The Wife Project and is dismayed by this boisterous, loud, bold, drinking, smoking, and habitually late young woman, yet oddly drawn to her. To top that off, she also wears jewelry and too much makeup, dyes her hair, is mathematically incompetent and works in a bar--she is clearly unsuitable for Don, failing the questionnaire spectacularly.
|A genetics-inspired helix display for the author|
|Graeme Simsion with me|
There are moments where it flags a bit, but these are rare and fleeting in a generally streamlined and tight novel. And it's no surprise, considering that this novel started off as a screenplay. This book is funny in a very smart way, and in my experience, that's difficult to do well. For every When Harry Met Sally in existence, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of bad rom-coms.
I wish I could excerpt a few passages, but the scenes that are so funny are big, and need too much build-up, so it's not really worth doing. Here's one paragraph that might give an idea of Don's habit of being sincere-but-misguided: the one woman who ticked all the right boxes on the questionnaire has also demanded that her partner be a good dancer. Fair enough, Don thinks (he really is quite fair). He's aware he's being particular and it's reasonable to expect her to be particular, too. He doesn't know how to dance, but how hard can it be? He watches movies and YouTube videos, practicing with a skeleton in his office. Here's what happens when he and his partner hit the dance floor at a faculty ball on their first date:
"I took her in the standard jive hold that I had practiced on the skeleton and immediately felt the awkwardness, approaching revulsion, that I feel when forced into intimate contact with another human. I had mentally prepared for this, but not for a more serious problem. I had not practiced with music. I am sure I executed the steps accurately, but not at precisely the correct speed, and not at the same time as the beat...Bianca tried to lead, but I had no experience with a living partner, let alone one who was trying to be in control."Just the phrase "standard jive hold"makes me want to giggle. If you know me in real life, and if we usually exchange Christmas presents, then be forewarned: do not buy yourself a copy of this book. If you know me in real life and we don't normally exchange Christmas presents, well, you just might get one this year. That's how much I love this book and want everybody I know to read it, too. It will make you laugh in all the right ways.
If you don't want to take my word for it, take the word of the acquiring editors the world over who have bought the rights to The Rosie Project in their countries; the number was more than three dozen and counting the last I looked. And naturally since it began as a screen play it will end as one, too. No word on casting, but I confided to the author that I think he'd do well to court Benedict Cumberbatch for the role of Don Tillman, who was in agreement. He's had a bit of experience playing the brilliant, gorgeous, socially awkward, probably-Aspbergian genius who maybe-just-maybe longs for love: