Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

There's a lid for every pot, as one of my friends used to say. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion follows an Australian scientist's efforts to find a wife using logical methods. Don Tillman is a geneticist who probably falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. People find his blunt honesty bewildering and sometimes hurtful, but Don is just as confused by everyone else's irrational behaviour. I was immediately beguiled by Don's first-person voice.

When Don cycles to a fancy dinner reservation on a rainy night, he is stopped at the entrance.
"You need to wear a jacket." 
"I'm wearing a jacket." 
"I'm afraid we require something a little more formal, sir." 
The hotel employee indicated his own jacket as an example. In defence of what followed, I submit the Oxford English Dictionary (Compact, 2nd Edition) definition of 'jacket': 1 (a) An outer garment for the upper part of the body. 
I also note that the word 'jacket' appears on the care instructions for my relatively new and perfectly clean Gore-Tex jacket. But it seemed his definition of jacket was limited to 'conventional suit jacket'. 
"We would be happy to lend you one, sir. In this style." 
"You have a supply of jackets? In every possible size?" 
I did not add that the need to maintain such an inventory was surely evidence of their failure to communicate the rule clearly, and that it would be more efficient to improve their wording or abandon the rule altogether. Nor did I mention that the cost of jacket purchase and cleaning must add to the price of their meals. Did their customers know that they were subsidising a jacket warehouse? 
"I wouldn't know about that, sir," he said. "Let me organise a jacket." 
Needless to say I was uncomfortable at the idea of being re-dressed in an item of public clothing of dubious cleanliness. For a few moments, I was overwhelmed by the sheer unreasonableness of the situation. I was already under stress, preparing for the second encounter with a woman who might become my life partner. And now the institution that I was paying to supply us with a meal -- the service provider who should surely be doing everything possible to make me comfortable -- was putting arbitrary obstacles in my way. 
My Gore-Tex jacket, the high-technology garment that had protected me in rain and snowstorms, was being irrationally, unfairly and obstructively contrasted with the official's essentially decorative woollen equivalent. I had paid $1015 for it, including $120 extra for the customised reflective yellow. I outlined my argument. 
"My jacket is superior to yours by all reasonable criteria: impermeability to water, visibility in low light, storage capacity." I unzipped the jacket to display the internal pockets and continued, "Speed of drying, resistance to food stains, hood..." 
The official was still showing no interpretable reaction, although I had almost certainly raised my voice. 
"Vastly superior tensile strength..." 
To illustrate this last point, I took the lapel of the employee's jacket in my hands. I obviously had no intention of tearing it but I was suddenly grabbed from behind by an unknown person who attempted to throw me to the ground. I automatically responded with a safe, low-impact throw to disable him without dislodging my glasses. The term 'low impact' applies to a martial arts practitioner who knows how to fall. This person did not, and landed heavily. 
I turned to see him -- he was large and angry. In order to prevent further violence, I was forced to sit on him. 
"Get the fuck off me. I'll fucking kill you," he said. 
On that basis, it seemed illogical to grant his request.
I was routing for Don every farcical step of the way. At its core, this story is about an important issue: everyone needs human love and companionship. Funny, touching and sweet. Highly recommended.

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