Don Tillman, a geneticist at an Australian university, is not only intelligent and good-looking but a decent cook to boot. He decides that he needs a wife, which you would think shouldn’t be hard. But Don’s manner tends to put women off. He tends to take everything literally and is not good at picking up on non-verbal signals that are so much a part of how we communicate (a touch of Asperger’s syndrome?). For example, when someone says, “Tell me about it!”, he tries to do exactly that.
Don has his life figured out. He has a weekly timetable of meals which never changes, so he doesn’t have to think about food or what to buy. What he needs is a mate who won’t upset his perfectly organized routine. So, with some help from his friend Gene (his other friend is Gene’s wife), he devises a 16-page questionnaire that Gene helps him distribute to possible candidates.
But, as we all know, life never works out as planned. Rosie walks into Don’s office, and Don, assuming she has filled out his questionnaire, asks her for a date. Rosie hasn’t filled out the questionnaire—just as well because she would have failed abysmally: she smokes, is always late and doesn’t eat meat. She is actually there to ask Don to help her find her biological father. But she takes him up on the date, and so begins an unusual love story. The two may be unfathomable to the people around them, but they understand each other, and it is a treat watching the relationship develop.
The story is narrated by Don, whose manner made me realize just how much of our interaction relies on the unspoken and indirect communication. The book is funny, and Don and Rosie are both wonderful characters. Don has narrowed down the number of men who could be Rosie’s fathers, and there are hilarious situations when Don and Rosie try to get DNA samples from them—stealing cups, napkins, cigarette butts, toothbrushes—anything they can get their hands on.
It’s not just the love story that is enjoyable. Don’s narration is what makes the book different. He is unsentimental (but not unfeeling), and constantly analyses situations, trying to understand emotions. “As I handed the filled tube to Rosie to put in her handbag, I noticed her hands were shaking. I diagnosed anxiety, presumably related to the imminent confirmation of paternity.” Graeme Simsion uses him—or his point of view—to hold a mirror up to us, to how we engage with each other and the kind of games we play.
If you’re looking for a run-of-the-mill love story, this book is not for you. But if you’re looking for something light but intelligent, witty and heart-warming, then get this book.