In brief: Following on from The Rosie Project, Don tackles a new role for him – fatherhood.
The good: Lovely to be back reading about Don and the gang, plus some new characters.
The not-so-good: Some of the finale was a little far-fetched, but on second thought, plausible when it involves Don.
Why I chose it: Loved The Rosie Project, so this was a great Christmas present!
Publisher: Text Publishing
Setting: New York City and Australia
My rating: 9.5 out of 10
The Rosie Effect was one of the most anticipated books to be released in 2014 (if my blog statistics are anything to go by). Don Tillman, unlikely romantic hero who grabbed so many hearts, is back. This time he and his new wife Rosie are living in New York City, where Rosie is finishing her PhD and Don is a professor at Columbia University. Everything is sweet. Don now has six friends and his laundry is only slightly modified in colour after a mishap with a neighbour. Gene, Don’s friend and Rosie’s hated PhD supervisor is now back in Australia where wife Claudia has kicked him out after cheating one too many times. Dave and Sonia are having a baby and Don and Rosie are pulling crowds with Don’s memorised cocktail library knowledge. It’s a sweet feeling to come back after basking in the glow of The Rosie Project.
But where Don is involved, things will go wrong. He’s more aware of his limitations now, to feel the depth of feelings that others seem to is near impossible for him. Don’s purely clinical mind still gets him into trouble and it highlights the lack of knowledge and tolerance of others in regards to Asperger’s. There’s the Blue Fin Tuna incident in a hip restaurant that sets off Lydia (who ends up having more connections with Don than she’d like) but the big change to Don’s life is when Rosie announces that she’s pregnant. This induces a meltdown for Don – so many unknowns! But with true Don spirit, he decides to learn everything there is to know about fatherhood. This involves observation of children, being involved in a research study of oxytocin levels in babies with two mothers plus setting up a strict dietary programme for Rosie. But as Don’s knowledge improves, his relationship with Rosie becomes more and more distant. Failure of communication looks to be their downfall. Can the newly arrived Gene, Dave, Sonia and new rock star friend George help them to figure it out?
The Rosie Effect is much more of a ‘boy story’ than its predecessor. There’s less romance and more ‘man time’ as Don turns to his various friends and colleagues for help. (Naturally, Don also manages to solve many of their problems too, from George’s issues with his son and Dave’s terrible accounting procedures). It’s more about friendship and Rosie is somewhat of a background figure in this story. (I’d love to read an alternate version of this story told from Rosie’s point of view, although I think it would be a sadder tale of isolation). She is pushed into the background as Don wholeheartedly focuses on the development of ‘Bud’ (Baby Under Development) as only he knows how. A flip comment by Lydia that he shouldn’t ever have children has him terrified and then in Don’s reading, he finds out Rosie shouldn’t be stressed, so he keeps things from her, which makes Rosie more wary and disengaged…and so the cycle goes. Ultimately, the story is about the failure of communication, letting one part of your life slip while you focus on another.
But of course there are exceptionally funny parts to this story. Even though the Blue Fin Tuna incident leaves Don scarred, there are some smile worthy lines. The part where Don gets arrested and has to attend social worker appointments with Sonia pretending to be Rosie are out loud giggle worthy. And the fathers’ group? Hilarious. This story wouldn’t be Don’s without these everyday moments turned extreme. I did find the in-air drama a little over the top, but it was crucial to the story.
I did miss Claudia in this story. She was the sensible voice for Don when all things went wrong, a role that is partially filled by Sonia. Rosie taking more of a back seat was a little disappointing, but there were glimpses of her feistiness. I did like new character George, who devotes an apartment to beer storage and turns out to be a fun addition to the team. Gene’s big revelation was the only part that really didn’t work for me – why did he do it (or didn’t do it)? It didn’t fit into what I felt I knew about his previous character and I liked him even less afterwards.
Like any sequel, there’s a loss of the surprise element. This time we know what Don is like, but for me, the fun was in reconnecting with the characters and seeing Don turn his hand to pastures new, making mistakes along the way. I loved how he and Rosie quoted scientific papers at each other and I was more than happy with the ending. While this may be the last we see of Don in book form (that movie is coming out I hope!), I’m certainly looking forward to more of Graeme Simsion’s work and the unique, humorous spin he puts on things.