It was the debut novel that caught the attention of Bill Gates, who described The Rosie Project as “funny and profound”. As it spiralled into literary stardom, The Rosie Project found a place in our hearts. It introduced us to dear ol’ Don Tillman, an intellectual in the specialised field of genetics who is and always has been hopelessly awkward in social situations. Still, this socially inept professor managed to triumph his oddness and successfully completes the ‘The Wife Project’ by falling in love and marrying Rosie.
As a rather obvious but nevertheless apt choice for a sequel, titled The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion revisits the lives of newlyweds Don and Rosie, who are now living in New York and working in the medical department of Columbia University. They’ve moved in to a different apartment, made a number of new friends and are just enjoying the married life. Until one day, Rosie makes a dramatic announcement: she’s pregnant. Unable to process the logic of having a baby, Don’s immediate confusion then subsequent panic and meltdown becomes the driving force of the novel:
I was happy in the way that I would be happy if the captain of an aircraft in which I was travelling announced that he had succeeded in restarting one engine after both had failed. Pleased that I would now probably survive, but shocked that the situation had arisen in the first place, and expecting a thorough investigation into the circumstances.
So in a pure Don Tillman-style reaction and much to Rosie’s dismay, the event of the unplanned pregnancy is over-analysed to the point of self-help pregnancy books and research experiments with lesbian mothers. Undoubtedly, these unfortunate incidents bring trouble not only for Don’s reputation as an academic but his role as a responsible husband and soon-to-be father.
While the sequel fulfils much of the plot development left off from The Rosie Project, the light-hearted humour in the story that we first loved unfortunately did not follow. In The Rosie Effect, Simsion explores follow-up themes around relationships such as marriage and family life. Don’s anxiety towards fatherhood hinders the comical aspect of all the unlikely and otherwise humorous events in his life. Throughout the story, Don is obsessed with methodically ensuring that his role as a father is fulfilled perfectly. But this becomes predictable towards the end, as he emerges again as the hero to Rosie’s heart despite all the troubles he faces.
Perhaps the highlight and most heartbreaking development in the plot is the strain between Don and Rosie that greatly challenges their marriage. Gone are the familiar witty banter and heart-warming attraction between them. Instead, they struggle to find stability and common ground in their new chapter of life, forcing them to reassess the probability of staying together while attempting to make revisions to their Don-scheduled lives:
My proposal is that we attempt to retain as much interpersonal relationship as possible, subject to baby demands. I offer to do all the required work: you merely need to accept the objective and offer reasonable cooperation.
As the plot thickens into unfamiliar fictional realms for the characters, so do their personalities. While Don’s need for order and detailed analysis in everything remain repetitive in nature, there are hints of emotional awareness towards the end of the book when he is faced with the one of the greatest challenge of his life – understanding love. His inability to decipher normal human emotional cues takes a turn when he begins to comprehend his self and his feelings for Rosie:
I had made the connection just as Rosie opened the door and startled me with her beauty. A wave of pain had run over me, a realisation that I was going to lose her, and a consequent feeling that life would not be worth living. It was an extreme emotion and an irrational conclusion, and both would have passed, as they had passed in my twenties, when I had looked into the pit of depression and managed to step back.
Even quirky, levelheaded, beguiling Rosie changes as the months of her pregnancy go by as she becomes increasingly consumed by the possibility of having a baby in an unstable environment. Don’s inclination for haphazard circumstances in attempts to be the best father possible to their baby proves to be too much “crazy” for Rosie to handle. Disappointingly, Rosie loses her bubbly charm to become a more anxious character. To think about it from Simsion’s point of view, the character changes were perhaps unavoidable, parallel to seasonal changes that occur in the development of the storyline. Still, they appear to successfully remain endearing in their own ways and afford to complement the more serious tones of the sequel as a whole.
For all the lessons we learn in and through love, Simsion hits home with The Rosie Effect. Personally, it was a little disappointing, considering how much enjoyment was derived from The Rosie’s Project’s light-hearted humour. The sequel lacks the same kind of charm – the kind that draws you into the story and keeps you up at night for wanting to read the end of it. If I were to name the main satisfaction from reading The Rosie Effect, it would be the fulfilment of closure for my curiosity towards the progress of Don’s life and the lives of people around him. In terms of character personalities, the change is considerably drastic, even at times unbelievable, which was perhaps the biggest disappointment of all. But with all that said, the story of Don and Rosie still remain wonderfully captivating as they continue to pursue a not-so-logical, loving marriage at their best. While the praise remains at large for The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect is worth the read too.