The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

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Entries in Graeme Simsion (4)


The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion

Published in Australia by Text Publishing on May 28, 2019

The Rosie Result takes place about ten years after The Rosie Effect. Don Tillman is content, as is Rosie. They have a healthy and happy child named Hudson. At least, he’s happy until Rosie is offered a job in Australia that she wants to accept. Hudson does not accept changes in routine any more readily than Don. In fact, Hudson is sort of a Don Jr. in his lack of social skills, his love of predictable schedules, and his preference for math to sports. Child-raising not being a skill that comes naturally to Don, it is time to embark on a new project: the Hudson Project.

Don is the same quirky character readers loved in the earlier novels. He refers to a stroller as a “baby vehicle.” He has little tact, although he has generally learned to recognize  and avoid potentially tactless statements.

Don has little difficulty finding a position as a professor of genetics in Melbourne. His tactlessness causes an uproar when he chooses an arguably insensitive exercise to convey a lesson about genetics and race to his students, a professional stumble that is heightened by a student’s decision to broadcast it on Twitter. The video is taken out of context, but no university wants to be seen as employing a racist.

When a colleague suggests that he might gain some protection by being diagnosed with autism (making his social blunders more acceptable in the world of academic politics), Don has understandable reservations about playing a disability card. He resists being labeled as autistic despite his secret fear that the label might be accurate.

And then there’s the elementary school that is trying to pin the same label on Hudson. Given that Don’s greatest skill is problem solving, he embarks on an effort to help Hudson gain the acceptance of school administrators and classmates. He also wants to maximize Rosie’s career options and to solve his friend Dave’s obesity and marital problems by reprising a career that he developed in one of the earlier novels.

The Rosie Result is quite different from the first Rosie books, but quite wonderful in its own way. The first book was hilarious in its portrayal of two completely different individuals who fall in love and make it work. The second book features humor in a similar vein with the addition of a pregnancy. By the third novel, the reader knows what to expect from Don, whose insistent embrace of reason over emotion drives the humor in the first two books. The Rosie Result has many light moments, but the story tackles autism more directly than the first two novels and does so in a serious way.

The novel presents a stark contrast between two competing perspectives on children with autism, or if you prefer, autistic children. Those who use the phrase “children with autism” believe the children have a disorder that needs to be treated, but the disorder should not define the children. Those who say “autistic children” believe that autistic behavior is a defining charateristic of who they are, and other people should either accept them or learn to deal with them. Don approaches the issue from the standpoint of rationality, as should everyone. But the most revealing perspectives come not from Don and Rosie, or from the psychologists and teachers and advocates who express their views, but from kids (including Hudson) who resist being defined by others and who demonstrate that stereotypes about autism — the autistic have no empathy, the autistic are dangerous, the autistic can’t make friends, the autistic don’t understand humor — reveal the limits of people who think in terms of labels and stereotypes rather than looking at each child as an individual.

For all of that, The Rosie Result is a warm-hearted novel. The Rosie Project works because Don overcomes limitations imposed by his character traits and grows as a person, and because Rosie sees past those character traits and accepts Don for the person he is. The Rosie Result works because Don learns to become comfortable with character traits that are not “neurotypical,” demonstrating a different kind of growth. And he come to accept that not all problems can be solved, at least when the problems involve people. Sometimes you just have to “muddle through” (although muddling through, according to Don’s research, is also a problem-solving technique).

All three novels use humor to encourage the reader to like and accept Don because he is a good person, even if he doesn’t respond to situations requiring human interaction in the way that “neurotypical” people expect. By focusing on their autistic child, The Rosie Result drives home the need to accept people like Don wiith more substance than the first two novels, but does so without sacrificing the sweetness that makes the first two novels succeed.



The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

First published in the UK in 2017; published by St. Martin's Press on May 2, 2017

The publisher classifies this as women’s fiction and, not being a woman, I would have given it a pass except for my enjoyment of Graeme Simsion’s two Rosie novels. The Best of Adam Sharp isn’t anything like the Rosie novels, which might trouble readers who expect an author to keep writing the same book over and over (as many successful authors do). On the other hand, since the Rosie novels were hilarious and this one is only slightly amusing and only moderately interesting, it’s difficult not to make a comparison and find Adam Sharp wanting.

Adam is pushing past the boundaries of middle age but not yet a senior citizen. His partnership with Claire is at the friendship stage, passion having fled long ago. So when Adam gets an email from Angelina, more than 20 years after he last saw her, he wonders if it might change the world. That seems unlikely, since the email says “Hi” and nothing else.

The first half of the novel is largely the story of Adam and Angelina — how they met, how Adam met Angelina’s husband (a total jerk, of course), why their relationship failed — with occasional returns to the present, in the form of an email or instant message. Of course, Adam and Angelina are both in new relationships, but they are apparently reaching out to each other in search of the spark that their lives are missing.

The first half is familiar, even a bit ordinary. It occasionally relies on cliché (Adam and Angelina tell each other “the story of us,” a phrase and concept that has been seriously overused). Fortunately, a respectable amount of character development adds some freshness to a tired plot. Still, for all his charm — he plays the piano and sings and he’s considerate and respectful, who wouldn’t love the guy? — Adam is more a fantasy male than a real one. He’s too perfect, too sensitive to needs of the women he adores, too willing to adore them at the drop of a hat. And too willing to recognize his faults and change them, which as we all know, is the sort of good intention that guys manage to make good on for about two weeks before reverting to their true selves.

The second half, told in the present, is more interesting, even a bit daring at times, but the story is told in such a dispassionate, detached voice that I found it hard to make an emotional investment in Adam’s evolving life. The second half offers more insight into the characters, but not enough to make me care much about them. That’s an issue that can be overcome with a fascinating story or scintillating prose, but neither of those are present here. There are also several sex scenes that are too clichéd to be anything other than dull. The ending is safe, and in that sense predictable.

Putting aside everything else, the book is a tribute to the power of music, and I enjoyed reading about songs I love and a couple that I listened to for the first time after Adam mentioned them. There’s even a playlist at the end of the book, heavily weighted to 1960s artists, which explains my familiarity with most of the songs. That isn’t enough to save the novel, but it is enough to boost it toward a very cautious recommendation.



The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

Published by Simon & Schuster on December 30, 2014

Considering that I laughed all the way through The Rosie Project, it didn't surprise me that I started laughing on the first page of The Rosie Effect. Don Tillman, the narrator of the Rosie novels, is now a familiar character. In this case, familiarity breeds glee. This novel might not be quite as funny as the first, if only because the character of Don is less startling in this second encounter, but I still enjoyed it.

The Rosie Effect begins after Don and Rosie have been married for ten months. They are living in New York. Don is teaching at Columbia and Rosie is pursuing her doctorate. Don has managed to make new friends (he now has six), has abandoned the Standardized Meal System, and has agreed that sex should not occur on a fixed schedule. His otherwise orderly life is nevertheless unsettled by an unscheduled pregnancy that makes Rosie's emotions even more impossible for Don to predict.

The pregnancy also raises yet another problem that Don finds perplexing: Is Don fit to reproduce? Opinions are mixed. To address the issue, Don embarks on The Baby Project (i.e., he prepares for "baby production and maintenance"). His efforts are hampered by an interfering social worker who is offended by Don's lack of social skills. His life is further complicated by Gene, one of his six friends, a philandering psychology professor who comes to live with Don after his wife boots him out of the house.

As readers of The Rosie Project know, Don possesses the intellectual rigor of a dedicated scientist but has a shortage of empathy. Rosie has plenty of intellect but usually balances her left brain with her right. In pregnancy, however, Rosie is all about emotion despite her unwillingness to concede that the pregnancy might challenge her. Don's desire to understand Rosie's behavior in terms of its evolutionary origins and to offer "helpful" solutions is, like the rest of the novel, hilarious -- to the reader, but not to Rosie.

Much of Don's thinking makes perfect sense (to me, at least). For instance, having told Rosie that he loves her, why should he ever need to tell her again? After all, love is a "continuous state" and only a change in that state would produce relevant information that needs to be conveyed. The Rosie Effect has some insightful things to say about relationships (and some good advice for men), particularly relationships that might lead to reproduction.

While the novel makes a number of serious points about relationships and the value of truth versus deception, its most important lesson concerns the need to be true to oneself -- even if you are socially maladapted. I value The Rosie Effect and The Rosie Project for the lighthearted approach they use to make serious points, but I value them more for the consistent laughter they provoke.



The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

First published in Australia in 2013; published by Simon & Schuster in hardcover on October 1, 2013 and in paperback on June 3, 2014

The Rosie Project is written in the first person using a stuffy, intellectualized voice that is perfectly consistent with the stuffy, intellectualized narrator, Don Tillman. If you've seen Doc Martin, you have an idea of what Tillman is like. Not many novels make me laugh out loud, but the Tillman character in The Rosie Project managed to do that repeatedly.

A professor of genetics, Tillman is insensitive, obsessive, inflexible about his daily schedule, socially awkward, extremely bright, and unable to solve the Wife Problem (i.e., he has no chance of finding one). He regards emotion as an annoying distraction and admires people with Asperger's because they they lack emotional connections that impair the ability to focus. At romance, Tillman is hopeless. Almost all women consider him an unsuitable partner (blunt rudeness is not charming) and he considers almost all women unsuitable, particularly if they waste his time with small talk, horoscopes, fashion, religion, homeopathy, or pretty much anything else that isn't related to a stirring discussion of science.

A systematic effort to find a wife using questionnaires affirms that no women meet his standards. The Wife Project is a flop until his friend (he has only two, the other being his friend's wife) fixes him up with Rosie. She is, Tillman concludes, completely unsuitable as a wife -- she's a vegetarian, a smoker, bad at math, and habitually late -- but as he helps her with a project of her own (determining the identity of her biological father), Tillman is perplexed to find that he enjoys her company. But is he equipped to love her?

The Rosie Project follows the course that is expected of a romantic comedy, but the course is not entirely predictable despite leading to the kind of ending that the genre demands. The plot thread involving the mystery of Rosie's father adds an additional layer of interest to the novel. If the moral of the story -- nobody's perfect -- is obvious, that makes it no less true. The corollary to that moral -- love is expressed by a willingness to accept people as they are -- is also well illustrated. It might be possible to change your behavior, the novel suggests, but making a fundamental change of personality is a more doubtful task.

Although The Rosie Project is very funny, it also makes a serious point about using simplistic labels like "obsessive-compulsive" and "bipolar" and "Asperger's" to categorize people because their brains are "configured differently from those of the majority of humans." Regarding functional people as having a "disorder" because of the way they process information often does them a disservice. A lot of people would dislike Tillman because of his nonexistent social skills (his Dean is anxious to find an excuse to fire him despite his intellect) but others (and I am among them) would find him to be a refreshingly honest, "no BS" kind of guy. Anyway, social skills are overrated, particularly by those who have them.

In the end, the serious points the book makes are overshadowed by the laughter it inspires. The good humor that pervades The Rosie Project makes it an easy book to love.