I’m comfortable with the ‘compulsively readable’ label oft attached to Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. Originally envisioned as a screenplay, the novel has cinematic pacing and a powerful sense of scene (including here both a sense of the setting and a well-defined plot focus for a particular chapter). Taken together with the warm and lighthearted romance plot and you have yourself a perfect stay-up-late, read-on-the-beach, pass-the-time-while-waiting-for____ kind of novel. There is much to enjoy in the characterization of Rosie and Don, the certainty of the romance genre’s happily ever after and the unapologetically optimistic take on the world and the ability for individuals to do right.
Despite enjoying it so much (or maybe because of?) I’m left with a niggling uncertainty about the novel. Our narrator, Don, captures the reader immediately with his eccentric voice and self-awareness as a social oddity. In the opening chapters the reader is made aware that Don has Asperger’s, and is also made aware that Don himself does not know this about himself (in some of the rare moments of emotional complexity in the novel we get glancing mention of ‘dark’ moments in Don’s past – periods of interaction with the health care system trying to diagnose his ‘problem’). My discomfort stems from the effect of the imbalance created between what we as readers know (likewise what those around Don seem entirely aware of) and what Don knows. Of course there are often occasions when readers know more than the protagonist – there’s nothing wrong with this use of perspective. My discomfort in this instance has, I think, more to do with the way the reader is positioned to laugh – or at least find humorous – at the extent to which Don’s opacity to himself causes miscommunications and misunderstandings (the stuff of comedic energy) with those he works with, his friends and his romantic interests. You could make an argument that having a label like Asperger’s should not impact Don’s self-identification and self-awareness; except the novel poses this exact premise – Don reflects that having a name for conventionally odd behaviour or a name for a ‘different’ way of viewing the world must be a source of solace. So I remain unsettled by the positioning of our narrator and our reader in what is known and the corollary piece of what we are expected to find funny. I suppose it’s a question of whether we are as readers positioned to laugh at Don or to laugh at the myriad of ways our society is structured to support, promote and normalize dominant social behaviours and identities. And I’m not sure the novel does enough to convince this reader that it knows where it stands in this respect.
All that said, I can see why this book has been so popular. And as an optimist and a believer in Sincerity and Generosity (despite all the – mounting – evidence persuading me that these orientations are ill-founded and likely dangerous) I take satisfaction in a novel that puts forward a similar vision of humanity.