The received book wisdom is that you know you’re on to a good thing when you finish the book and feel like you’ve said goodbye to a friend. I find that this is doubly true with an audiobook. When Mr Boo is away I wander round the house with my phone tucked into my pocket; sorting laundry and preparing lunches while I have a story read to me.
I got The Rosie Project audiobook after reading rave reviews of the voice performance, and it doesn’t disappoint. Dan O’Grady is a great narrator; a friendly attractive voice, nice round tones and good diction. The only downside is the Australian pronunciation of project (prowject rather than proh-ject) which grated for me. Luckily the sequel is called The Rosie Effect.
The Rosie Project is an unorthodox love story. An older man with behaviours on the ‘charmingly geeky, frighteningly clever, most often seen in films’ end of the autism spectrum has his life turned upside down by the entrance of a beautiful and unconventional younger woman. The tremors of this new relationship shudder through his carefully organised life, causing him to modify his behaviours and conciously develop better social skills. You will stop me if any of this starts to sound familiar wont you?
Clearly this novel owes much to the Jack Nicholson/Helen Hunt romcom As Good As It Gets. A debt it openly acknowledges about half way through. To be fair, it’s well aware of it’s similarities and gaily makes all sorts of other pop culture references thoughout. The Rosie Project isn’t weakened by the comparison. It’s a great story, with well-developed characters. Don Tillman is likeable and benefits from being instantly familiar as a sort-of Australian Sheldon, to any fans of The Big Bang Theory. Similarly to TBBT, autism is portrayed as an endearing and amusing trait characterised by being very neat, very logical and very clever.
This is a romantic comedy and touches only very lightly on the possible problems faced by someone with autism, for example an issue with physical contact is solved impossibly easily (if you meet the right person you can touch them). It also skims over marital infidelity, professional ethics and the challenges of modern academia. That said there are some really touching moments – having come to understand that he will make social mistakes which will lead people to laugh at him Don has developed class clown-style coping techniques, utilised poignantly in the scene at the university ball.
Ultimately this is a lovely light story of an awkward off-kilter romance and it’s nice to read a romantic story told from a male view point. Don is a character you enjoy spending time with and I’ve already got the audiobook of follow-up The Rosie Effect. But some might struggle with the cliched portrayal of autistic spectrum disorder.