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The Novel I Gave to 50 Friends

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Different ≠ Less Than

The Novel I Gave to 50 Friends

If somebody asked me, “what do you think your decades of working in technology have prepared you for?” my first answer definitely wouldn’t be, “writing a best-selling novel that beautifully explores the human condition.” But Australian author Graeme Simsion has taken his extensive experience in the data modeling industry and used it to do just that.

Melinda and I loved his first book, The Rosie Project. It starts when a geneticist who may or may not have Asperger’s Syndrome decides to put together a double-sided, 16-page questionnaire as the obvious first step to finding a wife. Ultimately the book is less about genetics or thinking too logically or the main character’s hilarious journey than it is about getting inside the mind and heart of someone a lot of people see as odd—and discovering that he isn’t really that different from anybody else.

Since then, I must have given The Rosie Project to at least 50 friends. Graeme has been busy too, writing a sequel called The Rosie Effect. As soon as we heard about it, Melinda and I asked him for an advance copy, and we enjoyed it so much that we invited Graeme to come to Seattle to talk to us about it.

I was happy to learn that one of my favorite things about both books is also one of Graeme’s favorite things. Usually, when we meet people who are different from us, in whatever way, we tend to treat them as inferior, even though we say that’s not what we’re doing. We may not even consciously realize we’re doing it. But through Don Tillman, the hero of both books, Graeme casts the issue in a different light. True, Don may not be the best at picking up on subtle social cues. But if you need to secretly collect DNA samples from 117 people at a party, there’s nobody in the world who’s going to do a better job. Different doesn’t mean less than.

What Don allows readers to appreciate is that, just because somebody might not be highly literate in the language of emotions doesn’t mean he doesn’t have emotions, and powerful ones at that. He sees the world in terms of logic, but he feels just as deeply about that world as everybody else. That puts him in a difficult position, and Graeme puts you right there with him.

The Rosie Effect, the second book, shows that Graeme isn’t a one-trick pony. It’s got a lot of the same characters, and of course they have the same foibles as they did in the first book. They even find themselves in some of the same kinds of situations. But somehow Graeme manages to make everything look and feel totally new. Don does aikido in the first book, and so when you get to aikido in the second book you think, is this just going to be the same thing again? But then it turns out to be funny in a completely different way.

The Rosie Effect, which will be released in the United States at the end of the year, improves on its predecessor in one interesting way. In the first book, you won’t necessarily see yourself in Don. (I’d say most readers will see somebody they know in him, but not necessarily themselves.) Anybody who’s a parent, though, has experienced what Don goes through in the second book. Am I doing this right? Because this isn’t what the pregnancy book says to do. Or this professional is judging me. What if she’s right and I’m wrong? Will my child be ruined? These are powerful fears we all have, and seeing them in Don makes you feel like you’re not the only one. And the outlandish plot—at one point Don decides the most logical thing to do is to have a New York accountant pretend to be an Italian peasant pretending to be a Columbia medical student—makes it impossible not to laugh at it all.

Graeme says that his comedy mentor’s mantra is, “Make ’em laugh. Make ’em cry. Make ’em think.” I think that with The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect Graeme has written two books that would make his mentor proud. 

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