The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project - Graeme SimsionThe Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
Penguin, 2013

This is unlikely to be the first time you read or hear about The Rosie Project, it being another one of those books that everyone seems to have read before me. Praised by most readers, when this book appeared in our national “vacation library app”, which allows your choice of a limited number of ebooks to read on smart phone or tablet, I was curious enough to click and see what all the fuss was about.

The Rosie Project is the story of Don Tillman who hopes to find true love through a scientific method he himself set up under the title “The Wife Project”. It is quickly established that Don has Asperger syndrome –although never made quite explicit that this is the exact name for what he suffers from–, and that he doesn’t quite know how to interact with people as others do. He lives by a tight schedule, has a tendency to look at things scientifically, being a geneticists by professions and living mainly for his work. One day he meets Rosie, a girl he thinks his friend selected for him out of the candidates for his wife project, only to learn that she has her own project to work on: that of finding her biological father. Becoming increasingly caught up in helping Rosie, “The Wife Project” is put on the back burner while “The Rosie Project” takes centre stage.

What makes The Rosie Project so readable is its light and entertaining tone. It is a humorous and quick read that is easily picked up (even at 3 am in the morning) and can be read almost on a whim.

While I enjoyed reading it, and Bas even found me shedding a few tears towards the end (6 am in the morning), I admit I was a little uncomfortable with my enjoyment of it, which, in turn, means I am not sure “enjoyable” is the correct word to use.

Summarised, I think what bothered me most is that in order to be humorous, the book invites you to laugh at the characters, particularly at Don and what is considered his social awkwardness. Though there are hints later on in the book, that this is a strategy that Don himself employs in order to “survive”, and as such might be read in a critical manner, I could not quite shake the feeling that it seems a little bit too convenient and easy to play up the social awkward of those who are diagnosed with something like Asperger to create humour and sympathy. Similarly, there is a hint of normativity throughout the book, articulated by the other characters and by Don with his projects, that I don’t feel was challenged enough through the ending of The Rosie Project. And then there’s the comments on Rosie’s supposed feminism and the way Don relates to it that I didn’t feel quite called for the comments made.

In summary, The Rosie Project was an entertaining read, and I can see its appeal on one level. On another, I am not quite sure if I’d recommend it. At times, its very lightheartedness was at the root of my discomfort with the book, and it is this discomfort that I never quite managed to shake.

Bout of Books

So, as long as the baby is not making an appearance and I am trying to get back to blogging, I thought it might be a good idea to participate in the Bout of Books read-a-thon. Basically, this is a week-long event in which you read as much as you want/like and can interact with other bloggers/tweeters/etc who do the same. Pretty basic, right?

Bout of Books

I do not have any set goals (except to read and enjoy), nor do I have a TBR pile, because honestly, my reading taste sways back and forth a bit too much lately to commit to even one book before actually picking it up. However, I am currently in the middle of three books (or, at the very beginning of two of those):

  1. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
  2. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  3. How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

I think I will be able to finish the first two this week, and after that.. we’ll see, shall we?

-  –  -

Because I do not want to bore you with endless update posts (although that might be a good way to make the blog look more active again :-P) I will record my week’s progress here.

Monday:

Bitterblue: 130 pages
The House of the Spirits: 33 pages

Since my living, sleeping, and reading schedule is way off these past few weeks, I actually managed to read quite a lot already, between the hours of 12 and 4 am *sigh*. Hopefully, I’ll manage some more pages of The House of the Spirits during daytime.

Tuesday

Bitterblue: 226 pages

Last night and today I finished reading Bitterblue. So much for moving forward in The House of the Spirits. I simply couldn’t put Bitterblue down anymore. Predictably, I loved it.

Wednesday/Thursday/Friday

The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens: finished (320 pages)

I did manage to read in between household chores (which I do incredibly slowly now), but did not find the energy to climb the stairs to the attic, which is where the only currently-working computer resides nowadays.. So no updates, these past days. I started and finished reading The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens. I did not love it, but did enjoy it very much.

Saturday

The House of the Spirits: 118 pages

I am less enchanted with this book than I was during the first 100 pages. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it is all the masculinity of the narrator that gets on my nerves (I think it is supposed to be this way, the women seeming to be at the centre of this novel, and yet.. at times I get impatient?).

 

 

Recent Reads: Books that I loved

I am now on maternity leave, finally. I would have expected my reading time to expand, but that has been strangely disappointing. At the same time that I went on leave, major pregnancy insomnia hit. Meaning, I sleep about 2-3 hours on average each night, however tired I am. Usually, when I cannot sleep, I pick up my ereader to help distract me. However, that hardly seems to work as I am actually too tired to focus on a screen without my glasses on – and so I just lie awake and stare in whatever direction.

I did manage to read some books lately, though. And fortunately for me, apart from a large amount of books I started and set aside again (who knows, maybe I’ll actually write about them?), there were quite a few wonderful books among them as well. Here are three books I read recently which I loved.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell // Orion, 2013

Everyone raved about this book last year, didn’t they? And here I am, adding my name to the list.

What can I say? Eleanor and Park is just plain lovely. It was the perfect read for me right now, combining comfort with a critical eye. It tells of the developing love story between the two protagonists, Eleanor ( a girl from a troubled family with little to no socio-economical capital) and Park (a boy from mixed Korean-American descent, brought up in a happy family, but facing assumptions about his masculinity). Rowell manages to evoke that feeling of a developing love, where every first touch is incredibly vivid, and every moment shared is a treasure – and she does so in a manner that is very touching and real, something which is so often difficult or problematic to evoke. At the same time, Rowell does not romanticise. She acknowledges the complicated social rules of high school, the insecurities that everyone faces, the difficult boundaries negotiated through race, gender, and class. And by acknowledging that both protagonists love each other, but have to negotiate these precarious rules and their social consequences as well, Rowell achieves a balance between incredible love story and intelligent social commentary that is rare and unbelievably well done.

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson // Persephone Books, 2008 (first published 1934)

Another book that has been a bloggers favourite: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. And again, I could not help but agree with those who have read this before me. I was not part-way in before I decided that I definitely need to order the other two books about Miss Buncle asap (which I have procrastinated on by telling myself that I could also read the other Persephones on my shelves first, before buying new ones).

It is difficult to explain what makes Miss Buncle’s Book work so well. A tale about an aging single woman who lives in a small town where nothing really happens, it explores the social interactions of Miss Buncle and her neighbours when their universe is disturbed by a book about their very town. Miss Buncle – unbeknownst to her neighbours – has authored this book by carefully observing their everyday life, and throwing it for a loop by making up alternative endings of her own. When the town finds out that these pseudonym characters are actually them, they all respond differently, but they almost invariably seek to find the person who has scrutinised their lives so carefully that the smallest secrets are now public. With gentle humour, perfect characterisation, and an overall feeling of loveliness, this book about a book within a book quickly managed to enchant me. I simply did not want it to end.

Miss Buncle’s Book is the perfect comfort read. Just writing about it makes me reconsider that idea of reading the other Persephones on my shelves first.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton // Corsair, 2013

Last but not least, I read Tooth and Claw. Are you tired of my gushing about perfect books yet? If so, I am sorry, but there’s one more to go.

Tooth and Claw takes the social rules of nineteenth-century society and explores women’s place within that society by imagining it as one consisting of dragons. Social status is defined by wealth and body size, and the latter can be achieved by eating other dragons which is condoned within a set of political and religious rules. Women are, as one might imagine, at the short end of this exchange. They have to be protected by a male (either family or husband). In marriage, they are expected to bear several clutches of dragonets, at the risk of their own life and those of the weaker children. Intermixed with these gendered expectations are ones about class, with servant dragons having their wings bound, and an exploration of the role of religion as both a force of repression and liberation.

Revolving around one family, the members of which we meet first at the gathering after their father’s death, when it is costumary to eat the deceased’s body, we follow the lives of three sisters and two brothers as they navigate the different pathways and social interactions that their careers, families, and positions have in store for them. The youngest three siblings receive particular attention, and it was for them that I felt most. But really, it is the whole set of characters, interactions, and the careful navigation and sometimes subordination of social rules that made this such an interesting read. 

On Goodreads some readers commented that they had to suspend disbelief for parts of the story (dragons travelling in carriages for example), but I couldn’t bother to be skeptical about these things. Tooth and Claw is so carefully drawn and narrated, making me care for the characters and their lot but also feeling intrigued by this social commentary and the way consequences of inequality were drawn out, that I cannot help but conclude once again that this was a book I loved, combining so many of the things I love and care for in fiction of whatever kind. There’s the added bonus of a somewhat happy ending — perhaps too happy to be entirely believable? — but definitely satisfying.

Highly, highly recommended. Is there anything comparable that I should read? Because I’d definitely love your suggestions!

 

Thursday (Without) Tea: A Room With a View

I still love the idea of Thursday Tea, so I have been thinking that if I cannot get an actual bookish post written, I might just settle for an update of sorts through this format. Until I arrived back home from work today and realised that there is one problem: The water boiler I use for tea has been moved to the new house already, and here, in this apartment with only the bare essentials (and all the books in boxes) left, I cannot drink any tea anymore!

So instead, I give you: a thursday without tea.

Fortunately, I have been reading in between packing and preparing for a paper presentation (Seriously, WHY did I figure it was a good idea to attempt to write a paper for a conference in between pregnancy and moving, even if the conference theme is perfect?!)

These past few days, I have been reading A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. Another one of those classics that has lingered on my shelves for years and years and years. I never knew quite what to expect of it, but then I read the back cover while packing and decided that I simply must give it a go.

And it is turning out to be rather lovely! The writing is wonderful. The plot might seem predictable, but it is executed very nicely. And I love the themed critique of the power of what imagery of women can do to curtail women from being individuals and instead constantly aiming to live up to an image that society imposes. I also like how it shows that this imagery harms both women ánd men, because both struggle to look beyond it to the person behind the facade that is expected at every turn. The image of the room, used in discourse between Lucy and Cecil as a metaphor for this kind of relationship and between Lucy and George for what might be found beyond societal expectations: it’s simple, but it really spoke to me.

Conclusion: I am enjoying my time with this book very much. Even if I have to read it with plain water instead of tea.