The reason I picked up this book was upon recommendation from World Book Night’s new book club. WBN has never steered me wrong before, so I gave it a go, and enjoyed what I read.
Don Tillman, a professor of genetics, is nearing forty and believes he needs to find a partner. The best way to do this, he believes, is to construct ‘The Wife Project’, which involves presenting women with an almighty questionnaire that systematically qualifies or eliminates them as potential partners. Then, into Don’s extremely logical and structures world walks Rosie – a chain-smoking, fiery barmaid who requires help in finding her biological father. Don dismisses her as ‘incompatible’ straight away, but her plight appeals to his scientific interest, this leading the two of them down a path that Don could never have fitted into his scheduled life.
It was an entertaining read – very interesting, good pace, believable characters, humerous situations and plot-twists that I never expected. What sets this story apart from the traditional rom-com novel is a bit of dramatic irony – Don displays many classic symptoms of Asperger’s.
The narrative does not initially focus on this, but as the plot progresses we realise there is a more serious side to Don’s comic character and start noticing his ‘quirks’ for what they really might be – his total disregard to ‘small talk’ (‘I could have spent fifteen minutes at home practicing aikido), his habit of taking everyone’s words literally (‘why, why, why can’t people just say what they mean?’), his militant daily schedule, his inflexibility, and his struggle to empathise with others.
This book has been criticised for the ways in which it portrays autism, often for missing a chance to ‘teach’ the reader about the disability. I believe, from personal experience, that Asperger’s is not just a device for tragedy and pathos, and I think that Simsion handles this very well. In fact – it’s refreshing. There are so many colours on the spectrum it’s good to see them being brought to paper. It would be disappointing to see Haddon’s Christopher from ‘The Curious Incident’ become a stereotype.
A funny, yet poignant story that unfolds into an issue of the mind versus the heart with amusingly accurate insights into how illogical social norms can really be.