Verdict: A beautifully written, emotional rollercoaster of a book. Don Tillman has to be one of my favourite characters of all time.
Note: The Rosie Effect is a sequel. Make sure to read The Rosie Project (5 stars) first, as this review contains spoilers for that book.
One of two fictional books on Bill Gates’ summer reading list, The Rosie Effect returns to the world of Don Tillman: socially unaware Professor of Genetics.
The Wife Project is over and – as you can guess from the blurb on the back of the book – the Baby Project is about to begin. That’s right, Rosie is pregnant, and Don has to deal with what’s coming when “Bud” (Baby Under Development) becomes something very real.
But can Don cope as a father?
Everyone and his wife has an opinion on this: New York police officers, social workers, psychologists, the rock star living upstairs and – most importantly – Rosie herself.
This book is one of the most compelling contemporary novels I’ve ever read – the top of the pile being The Rosie Project – because you instantly love Don. You feel his frustration, his difficulty at assessing social situations, coping with empathy, and the overall feeling of being trapped in his own body by other people’s opinions of his capability to feel. As Don himself says:
“I was suddenly angry. I wanted to shake not just Lydia but the whole world of people who do not understand the difference between control of emotion and lack of it, and who make a totally illogical connection between inability to read others’ emotions and inability to experience their own.”
I felt a similar frustration throughout the book with everyone who dismissed Don’s worth as a father. I’m still on the fence about if Don is simply socially unaware, or has something akin to Aspergers or High Functioning Autism, because I simply don’t know enough about either diagnosis to make that call. Importantly: neither does any character in the book, which is unfortunately something one or two characters dismiss and make judgments about Don that are completely erroneous.
The prose itself was wonderfully written, including a particular passage in which Don, due to nervousness, was overstimulated and his mind started to race. I felt my own mind reeling from the fantastic information overload he was giving me, which invoked an immediate empathy for his situation.
I spent a large portion of the book twisting in my seat with second-hand embarrassment and dread because I knew what effect Don’s actions were going to have, and which social cues he wasn’t picking up on. The domino effect of people constantly misunderstanding each other’s feelings, motivations and needs eventually culminated in a disaster that had me nervously turning the last pages, dreading the ending wasn’t going to be what I hoped.
The only reason this book is four stars instead of the five I gave its predecessor (The Rosie Project) is because for some reason, I didn’t think it was quite as good. That’s not to say it was bad – I consider the first book to be one of the best novels I’ve ever read, so it’s hard to live up to that! I still haven’t been able to put my finger on why. Perhaps it was my near-constant annoyance with Rosie, or the change of priority to their relationship… but something about it just didn’t effect me in the same hard-hitting way as the first book.
This is a truly excellent book and I recommend everyone who read and enjoyed The Rosie Project gives this a chance too.