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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

'The Rosie Effect' Don Tillman #2 by Graeme Simsion


From the BLURB:


The Rosie Project was an international publishing phenomenon, with more than a million copies sold in over forty countries around the world. Now Graeme Simsion returns with the highly anticipated sequel, The Rosie Effect.
Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman are now married and living in New York. Don has been teaching while Rosie completes her second year at Columbia Medical School. Just as Don is about to announce that Gene, his philandering best friend from Australia, is coming to stay, Rosie drops a bombshell: she’s pregnant.
In true Tillman style, Don instantly becomes an expert on all things obstetric. But in between immersing himself in a new research study on parenting and implementing the Standardised Meal System (pregnancy version), Don’s old weaknesses resurface. And while he strives to get the technicalities right, he gets the emotions all wrong, and risks losing Rosie when she needs him most.
The Rosie Effect is the charming and hilarious romantic comedy of the year.
'The Rosie Effect' is the sequel to Graeme Simsion’s 2013 internationally best-selling novel 'The Rosie Project', which I enjoyed immensely (as did Bill Gates). 
I had been very excited to read its sequel and revisit Don and Rosie – and I said as much in my 'Rosie Project' review. 

But now I have read the sequel, and I did not care for it. 

Allow me to try and relay the things I did not enjoy about this book, and assign them some sort of quantifiable value. I shall list what I did not like, and use a percentage marker to indicate how much their inclusion annoyed me and affected my enjoyment of 'The Rosie Effect'. 

• The Baby Project – 5% 


'The Rosie Project' was about geneticist Don Tillman concocting a scientific survey to find the perfect wife. He found an imperfectly-perfect wife in Rosie Jarman, who failed at his Wife Project but succeeded in the hands-on role. 'The Rosie Effect' begins when Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York – Don is a professor at Columbia and Rosie is completing her PhD. It is not a good time for them to “get pregnant”, but that’s exactly what happens … which triggers The Baby Project – which sees Don attempt to prepare for impending fatherhood by conducting extensive research into everything from suitable diet for Rosie to child-rearing techniques. Don is particularly keen to conduct such research because of an altercation with a friend-of-a-friend, who states that Don would make an unsuitable parent. 
It follows that after The Wife Project comes The Baby Project (as indicated by famous rhyme: first comes loves, then comes marriage etc, etc, etc…) but this storyline quickly falters, and the book started to feel like the nine-month gestation period itself. Or, as Alfred Hickling for The Guardian noted: “it fulfils a formula familiar to many sequels of bestelling novels in that it is twice as long and only half as good.” 

• Gregory Peck – 25%


Simsion repeats many jokes in this book. The Gregory Peck ha-ha was particularly annoying for it’s repetitiveness.
Rosie thinks that Don bears a resemblance to the famous actor Gregory Peck (circa: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'). This was a lovely visual in 'The Rosie Project'. In 'The Rosie Effect' we learn that Don has taken his resemblance and amplified it by repeating famous lines from Gregory Peck films ('Roman Holiday' in particular) which often results in Rosie feeling amorous towards Don. This is nice, and when Don first mentions his subtle ‘strategy’ it’s funny, and I cracked a smile … but Simsion repeats a variation of this joke about 20 times throughout the book.
It is a sad day when mention of Gregory Peck in a novel becomes frustrating. 
A sad day indeed. 

• Marital Violence joke – 35%


It’s not just the Gregory Peck joke that Simsion repeats.
There are two elaborate comedy-of-errors situations that take quite a bit of build-up, but the premise is people thinking that Don means to do some sort of harm to Rosie and/or the baby. He doesn’t. The misunderstanding comes from Don being somewhere on the autism spectrum (what was once called Asperger syndrome) and being entirely too honest and direct with people, particularly those in positions of authority. This sees him participating in a domestic violence counselling session, and giving the wrong impression to a flight marshal about intending to hurt Rosie. 
This “funny” clunked on the page … twice.

• 'The Rosie Project' similarities – 10%


A lot of The Rosie Effect is set-up to be a mirrored sequel to 'The Rosie Project'. The Wife/Baby Project plot is just one of them. Simsion reuses another in the friendly neighbour who Don becomes emotionally (unbeknownst to him) attached to. In 'Rosie Project' Don’s kind, elderly neighbour Daphne was the person who encouraged him to become a husband … hence, The Wife Project. Simsion conveniently contrives a similar scenario for Don in 'The Rosie Effect', except this time the neighbour is an old rocker called George who has his own family dilemmas and both gives Don advice, and benefits from Don’s “boy’s night out” initiative. George also provides Don and Rosie an unrealistic housing opportunity in New York. 
I didn’t love the skewed-slightly plot, especially since George didn’t hold a candle to Daphne who was a crucial part of Don’s character arc. 

• Gene – 5%


Gene’s wife, Claudia, finally leaves the serial-philanderer and Don convinces Gene to come and take a position at Columbia and stay with him and Rosie. 
This book is in no way improved by more Gene. 
… I don’t think anything is ever improved by more Gene. 

• The Women – 20%


This is a very male-centric story. Don spends a lot of “boys nights out” with his friends George, Gene and new acquaintance Dave working through various husband and fatherhood difficulties. By comparison, Rosie actually feels like a depleted character in this book – it didn’t feel like she was physically present for a lot of it (and probably wasn’t, as she’s frequently working on her thesis) – but emotionally it felt like Simsion left her to lag behind. Maybe this is because he writes her as a silly pregnant woman – irrational, baby-brained and forever frustrated – rather than an actual human being who we’ve come to know and love through Don’s search for her in 'The Rosie Project'. As Helen Elliott said in her Sydney Morning Herald review: "If ever there was a formulaic pregnancy, this is it. It might make men laugh. Women will be unamused and even cross."
Other women in the book are equally hollow – there’s the second emotionally overwrought pregnant woman (Sonia), evil professional lady (Lydia), Skype-chat ex (Claudia) or simply background extras B1, B2 and B3 (I’m not kidding). 

100% disappointed. 

I didn’t like 'The Rosie Effect'. I first became worried when I got to Chapter Eight and realised I hadn’t chuckled once – compared to my belly-laughing by that point in 'The Rosie Project'. 
Sure, a few scenes elicited smiles:

Loud Woman laughed. Loudly. ‘He’s Rain Man! You know. Dustin Hoffman when he remembers all the cards. Dan’s the cocktail Rain Man.’ 
Rain Man! I had seen the film. I did not identify in any way with Rain Man, who was inarticulate, dependent and unemployable. A society of Rain Men would be dysfunctional. A society of Don Tillmans would be efficient, safe and pleasant for all of us. 

But they were far and few between.

To be honest, I rushed through reading the end because I just wanted to be done with it. I still think Don is a great character, and I will pick up the third book when it comes out … but I might have to rein in my expectations, and I suggest you do the same if you’re going into 'The Rosie Effect'. 

1.5-2/5 




 

6 comments:

  1. Hmmm. I've held off on rushing out to buy this for this very reason. Always at the back of my mind was this feeling that no matter what, the second book couldn't live up to the first. Because Don is fresh and charming in the first book and it's hard to recapture that when the audience is already familiar with him. I was holding off until I read a few reviews and I seem to feel like perhaps I should let Don and Rosie live on in mystery!

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    1. There are lots of situation-comedy errors that happen in this book that plenty of people will see coming a mile away. When you know this one is going to be about Don becoming a father, and audiences know Don fairly well at this point, you can just guess what some of his prickly predicaments will be. It didn't feel fresh at all - I actually wish we'd had to wait 1-2 years for this sequel, because it coming so quickly on the back of 'Project' didn't feel quite right either.

      I honestly wouldn't try and change your mind about giving this one a miss. Probably for the best.

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  2. I know I'm fairly alone in this opinion but I thought the formula was tired by the end of the first book. I don't know why they are dragging it out for another two (financial reasons, I'm guessing?)

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    1. Good point - and we all knew it was a formula, because Simsion interviewed at length about adapting the novel from a rom-com screenplay (with those genre conventions).

      It's the mix of relying on that same formula, with these thunking jokes and a lack of well-rounded supporting characters (passable in a first book, unforgivable in a second) that makes 'Rosie Effect' a tough one to enjoy.

      I'm not sure where the third book will go. I recently compared David Nicholl's 'Us' to 'Rosie Project' (purely for the similarities between the male protagonists and their emotional journeys, when they're not very emotional men) - so I think if you're unwilling to invest in Simsion's third outing, read 'Us' instead for a far more enjoyable experience.

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  3. Well, the book didn't make you laugh, but your review tickled my funny bone. Great analysis. I was one of the few (like your commenter above) who wasn't overly fussed about the first one. I enjoyed it but didn't get the hype, really. It felt limited in scope and perhaps the second reflects this. Probably not on my reading pile for a while but I wish him success anyway. I know many readers will love it, and he's a hard worker.

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    1. Thank you :)

      Yes, I think 'The Rosie Effect' can be marked as a success in many ways - certainly while I've read critics have similar concerns to mine, readers on the whole seem to be enjoying it just as much as the first.

      I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that I came to have such high expectations ... oh well - shame they weren't met is all.

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