Thursday, 14 July 2016

'The Rosie Project' by Graeme Simsion (2013)

Synopsis: The Rosie Project is a contemporary romance novel set in Melbourne, Australia. Don Tillman is a 39 year old genetics professor on the autism spectrum and has a meticulously organised lifestyle. Don is a very intelligent and handsome man but most people find his manners awkward and confusing. Don has struggled with social norms for all of his life, has never been on a second date, and has convinced himself that he's simply not wired for love, romance and marriage. But Don then changes his mind and decides to embark on a "Wife Project" after a comment from a friend that he would make a wonderful husband. In keeping with his ultra-methodical and logical approach to life, Don then creates an online profile with a detailed questionnaire attached that should eliminate all of the unsuitable women who do not meet his exact specifications. Don's perfect wife will most definitely not be a smoker, a drinker, a vegetarian, a late-arriver or a woman with "emotional issues". However, Don then meets a 29 year old barmaid called Rosie Jarman who is all of these things and is also beautiful, intelligent, sarcastic, and fiery. Rosie is on a mission to find her long-lost father and is hoping that Don's work as a geneticist and his access to a lab can help her. Don agrees to do so in spite of his reservations and soon finds himself becoming extremely confused by his feelings towards Rosie.

I'd been hearing some great things about this book and as I've been making a bit more of an effort in seeking out contemporary fiction lately (those of you who read this blog regularly may have noticed this) I thought I'd give it a try. I'm so glad I did because The Rosie Project is easily one of the best books that I've read this year! It's a wonderfully engaging, heartwarming and quirky romantic comedy that is genuinely hilarious!

Originally Graeme Simsion wrote The Rosie Project out as a screenplay but then decided to turn that screenplay into a novel after he had trouble landing a film deal. I wasn't at all surprised to find that out as this book is not only very fast-paced and tightly-written (I managed to tear through it in just a couple of days) but has some big comic set-pieces that would probably transfer to screen brilliantly e.g. Don using his martial arts skills on a couple of overzealous bouncers, his night out as a cocktail barman, and a dance number. Given this book's success I think a big screen version of it in the near future is pretty much inevitable and that it will probably be an excellent film but having said that I still think that the book would be the better of the two for giving us access into Don Tillman's head.

Don is such a lovable, funny, well-meaning and endearing character and his narration is one of the most unique and quirky that I've come across. Don is on the autism spectrum and probably has Asperger's syndrome although this is never explicitly stated in the book since it's told in first-person and Don hasn't diagnosed himself as one. The Rosie Project has been very well-received by the Autistic/Asperger's community and by the end of the book I definitely felt that I'd gained a much greater insight into what it must be like to be a person on the spectrum. Another aspect of this book that I especially loved was its setting. Although the majority of it is set in Australia - which was great! - there are a few chapters in it that take place in New York. I'm going to New York later this year and this book has made me even more excited for my trip.

The Rosie Project is such a funny and delightful read. I loved this book and it would make for a fantastic summer/beach read! :)

Rating: 5/5

P.S. I know that Simsion has written a sequel to this book called The Rosie Effect but I've been put off by its reviews which haven't been as positive as the reviews for The Rosie Project. If I do end up reading that book it's probably not going to be any time soon.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Mini Book Reviews

It's been over two months since I last posted a book review which is a long time for me! There are a couple of books that I've read during this time that I'm planning longer reviews for but I've written mini-reviews for the books below. The reason for that is because I don't really feel that I have enough thoughts or opinions on these books to write detailed reviews for them; and also because one of the books is a non-fiction title and I personally find it really hard to write in-depth reviews for non-fiction books without summarising everything in them. So, the books that I'll be talking about in this post are:

  • The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925) - a 20th century classic
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001) - an urban fantasy novel
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (2012) - a contemporary novel
  • Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde (2002) - this one spans a number of genres! (SF, fantasy, detective fiction...)
  • The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today by Bryan Doerries (2015) - a nonfiction title

The Painted Veil. This book is a beautifully written character-driven novel. The book's heroine Kitty starts off as a flighty, self-absorbed, shallow young woman but then goes through a huge transformation and becomes a much stronger and wiser person. Even her husband Walter, who surprisingly gets very little page-time in this book at all, is an extremely vivid and well-rounded character. I'm always drawn to stories that have themes of forgiveness, repentance and self-growth and The Painted Veil is a wonderful example of that. Having said that, I read this book shortly after seeing the 2006 film adaptation and, as much as I enjoyed the book, I preferred the film. Because unlike the film, Kitty never comes to fall in love with Walter in the book and only ends up developing a sense of respect for him. I'm a romantic at heart so I couldn't help but find that aspect of the book rather disappointing. But I still think that this is a great book overall and I'd definitely recommend it.

P.S. This book was the 10th read on my Classics Club list. I'm finally onto double figures! :D

Rating: 4/5

American Gods. I first read American Gods many years ago. It was my first Neil Gaiman novel and I didn't think very much of it. But after reading several of Gaiman's other books over the years I now consider him to be one of my favourite writers and when it was announced that American Gods would be getting a TV adaptation from Bryan Fuller I thought it would be high time to re-visit this book. I was hoping that I'd be able to appreciate it a lot more but - argh! - I'm afraid that I still don't like this book very much :( It pains me to say it but I have to be honest! American Gods has a terrific concept and some interesting ideas but my issues with it are still there: namely that I find this book to be way too long and slow-moving and that I find Shadow to be a dull protagonist who lacks personality and is much too passive. It frustrates me so much that he just sort of... casually goes along with everything and that he's so unemotional as a character. Even though Gaiman says that Shadow is incredibly upset about his wife Laura's adultery and her death I never once felt it and I found it very hard to care about his character. To be honest the only part of this book that I really truly enjoyed was a colourful short story in it about an eighteenth century Cornishwoman.

Rating: 2/5

Me Before You. This book was actually a DNF for me. I gave up on it when I was about 1/3 of the way through. Not because I hadn't been enjoying the story (I found the writing engaging and the main character Louisa Clark very likeable) but because I lost my enthusiasm for the book due to all the negativity surrounding it. I wasn't aware of this until recently but there's been quite a backlash against this book as people in the disabled/quadriplegic community have argued that it's badly-researched, reinforces ableist stereotypes, and is a classic example of inspiration porn with Will Traynor being used as a prop for Louisa's character development. I'm not saying that I'm not ever going to read this book again now but I feel pretty leery about it at present.

Rating: a DNF so no rating. 

Lost in a Good Book. This book is the second novel in the Thursday Next series and is the sequel to The Eyre Affair (which was one of my favourite books from last year). But sadly Lost in a Good Book was another disappointing read. Although there are still some hilarious moments in this book (e.g. Thursday's television interview in the first chapter!) I found its plot far more slow-moving and confusing than The Eyre Affair's. Although I have heard that the next two books in this series are an improvement, I'm not sure if I'll bother with them now.

Rating: 2/5

The Theater of War. My favourite of the books on this list! It's both a memoir and a piece of literary analysis and was written by a man called Bryan Doerries - who runs a charity organisation called "The Theater of War" that has put on productions of plays (mainly Greek tragedies) for soldiers, prisons, churches, synagogues, hospitals, and natural disaster survivors. In the book, Doerries talks about the Greek tragedies, explains how he came to form his organisation, and includes some very moving stories from his personal life and the people that he's met over the years. The audiobook version of this book is read by Adam Driver (I'm not a huge audiobook listener but I try to keep a lookout for those that are read by my favourite actors) so I downloaded it on iTunes and listened to it on my way to work over several weeks. Unfortunately I never had the chance to learn about any of the Greek tragedies when I was younger as I don't think that they're very well-taught in British state schools but Doerries explained the plots and the relevance of the plays extremely well and now I feel far more enthusiastic about reading them! This book also works as a highly eloquent and passionate defence of tragedies in general. Tragic stories can sometimes get a very bad rap in our culture for being "negative" and "depressing" but this book effectively shows that tragedies can have a hugely positive impact: because they allow us catharsis, encourage us to develop empathy and compassion for the suffering of others, show us that we're not alone, and enable us to heal. Listening to this book was such a fascinating and thought-provoking experience and Adam Driver does a terrific job reading it. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5