Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"The Rosie Effect"

Graeme Simsion is a former IT consultant and the author of two nonfiction books on database design who decided, at the age of fifty, to turn his hand to fiction. His first novel, The Rosie Project, was published in 2013 and translation rights have been sold in over thirty-five languages.

Simsion applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Rosie Effect, and reported the following:
I’d written half of this post when I realized I’d been working with the UK edition – which has a slightly different layout and thus different page numbering (the story’s the same but lifts have turned into elevators and colours have become colors). Suffice to say that in that version, Page 69 is a crucial turning point in the novel, and I had plenty to say.

But Page 69 in the US version is also an important moment in setting up the story –and perhaps more typical of what readers will find in the book as a whole. Don’s unreliable, philandering friend Gene arrives to share their apartment, having been thrown out by his wife. Let’s pick a couple of moments that tell us something of what Don’s about.

Don doesn’t wait long before offering Gene some advice. After noting that Gene has put on weight, and recommending that he schedule some jogging, Don assumes the role of marriage counselor.
“Draw up a spreadsheet. On one side you have Claudia, [your kids], stability, accommodation, domestic efficiency, moral integrity respectability, no more inappropriate conduct complaints, vast advantages. On the other you have occasional sex with random women. Is it significantly better than sex with Claudia?”
Advice is a central theme of the novel: Don dishing out his hyper-rational science-based solutions, and his friends trying to help him navigate the unfamiliar territory of human relationships. Then there’s the internet. And the social worker. And the lactation consultant.

Back on Page 69, Don’s not finished.
“I’m a bit jet-lagged. Not sure what time my body thinks it is,” says Gene.
Don suggests alcohol as a way for Gene’s body to be reminded that it’s evening. And of course, he shares a drink or two with his newly-arrived buddy. Don’s supposedly rational behavior often has an element of self-interest. He drinks quite a lot in this book, and I’ve had people say, “That’s unrealistic. People on the autism spectrum (which almost certainly includes Don) don’t drink.” Or “Okay, I guess some people on the spectrum drink, but it’s not typical.”

So what? Don is not supposed to be typical of anything. I know that many have said that The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect have given them insights into high-functioning autism / Asperger’s Syndrome, but if they want to know what’s typical, they would be better with a textbook. I feel no obligation to make my character “average” in any sense.

Don has a reason for drinking that many of us will recognize: it helps him relax in social situations. Although on a couple of occasions I’ve indicated that Don is intoxicated, I’ve avoided using it as a source of comedy: Don creates enough without needing to resort to the ‘funny drunk’ formula.

Rosie is on Page 69, too. She’s not on every page (nor was she in The Rosie Project) and I know that causes some grief to readers of chick lit who are used to never having the female protagonist out of frame. But Don’s our narrator here, and sometimes he goes out with the boys, just as our chick lit protagonists have coffee with their girlfriends.

On Page 69, Rosie is getting a bit frustrated with Don: “I suspected that her level of satisfaction had dropped.” We shouldn’t be surprised: Gene’s arrival was unannounced – forbidden even – and Rosie is not fond of Gene, who also happens to be her PhD supervisor. Don has just that day moved them to another apartment as a ‘surprise’ for Rosie. Rosie has just found out why the rent is so low: the rock band upstairs.

Rosie and Don make up quickly this time, but it’s a hint of what’s to come. Not all plain sailing, but without conflict we’d have no drama and no comedy. The drama of living together is different from the drama of falling in love. And if you’ve read The Rosie Project and want to know how The Rosie Effect is different, you have your answer, right there on Page 69.
Learn more about the book and author at Graeme Simsion's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Rosie Project.

The Page 69 Test: The Rosie Project.

Writers Read: Graeme Simsion (October 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue