Author Graeme Simsion charmed readers with his quirky protagonist Don Tillman and Don’s pursuit of his partner Rosie Jarman in the popular books The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect. The much-awaited final book in the series, The Rosie Result (Text Publishing 2019) returns us to these colourful characters, this time with the introduction of their 11-year-old son, Hudson.
Set amidst the family’s return to Australia after a decade in New York, this third novel feels like a reunion of old friends. With Graeme Simsion’s trademark style – his witty dialogue, clever banter and simple plotlines – we are plunged once again into Don Tillman’s eccentric personality and his rather odd but endearing manner of getting things done.
But while the previous books skirted around the issue of Don’s behaviour, this instalment tackles the elephant in the room head-on. The story is a much stronger and more nuanced exploration of autism and Asperger Syndrome, and deals with it in a much more direct way: Don and Rosie’s son, Hudson, is not fitting in at school and struggling with questions around identity and self-worth, similar to the problems that Don faced growing up, but he and Rosie are determined to negotiate Hudson’s difficulties with more sensitivity than Don received as a young person. And so begins The Hudson Project, wherein Don (in typical Don Tillman style) makes a list of the problems he must address and then sets about solving them in an orderly and efficient way. The issue is viewed in terms of brain configuration, genetics and possibly environmental factors, and all are given equal scope. The book is peppered with people who actually have autism (or who are autistic; important distinction to some), or people who appear to display autistic traits, and the wider issue of tolerance and the acceptance of difference is illustrated by the characters themselves. Throughout the story, the author gives examples of common misconceptions about people with autism, and standard benchmarks used to diagnose them. It also turns all of these upside-down with the exceptions that break the rules.
The Rosie Result is very funny and much of the humour, as in the previous books in the series, is a result of misunderstandings or miscommunications around Don’s behaviour and his manner of interacting with others – his directness, his tendency to be very literal, and his single-mindedness. Ten years on, his other traits are also still in evidence – his kindness, his generosity, his empathy and his willingness to help others. In combination, this means he (and Rosie) are very keen to assist Hudson overcome his problems but at the same time are unsure whether a diagnosis of autism, or a label of any kind, will be a hindrance or a help. Much of the book is spent exploring this issue – whether we are all ‘on the spectrum’; whether psychological diagnosis is necessary; the benefits of some treatments or approaches over others; and focusing on the abilities of children rather than their differences. The story examines these various issues in a very balanced way, giving us characters that have opposing opinions and beliefs, and offering examples of things that have worked and things that haven’t. Overall, I think that the author is very respectful to the autism community, and that this book would be very empowering for people who don’t identify as neurotypical, because it encourages the pursuit of self-confidence and satisfaction with individual achievements rather than focussing on differences in a negative way.
The story includes the hilarious ups and downs expected of a Rosie book – the Genetics Lecture Outrage, the Oyster Shucking Incident, the Rosie Crucifixion and the Dave Disaster. All our old friends make an appearance, including Dave and Sonia, Gene and Claudia, Phil and Trevor, but we learn more backstory for each of them, and are introduced to some new characters including Hudson’s friends Dov and Blanche (and her family), and Don’s new friends and associates who are teaming up to open the world’s best cocktail bar. Don continues to immediately assess strangers by their age, appearance and BMI (Body Mass Index). He and Rosie seem to have settled on a system for negotiating the rules and parameters of their relationship, and their son Hudson is an endearing character who is highly intelligent, curious, deeply loyal and able to employ problem-solving techniques every bit as capably as his father (or perhaps more so). Hudson is often ‘involuntarily locked into an unreasonable position’, he doesn’t enjoy unanticipated physical contact, he has a heightened sense of justice and fairness, he doesn’t suffer fools, and he is always prepared, just like his father.
Thought-provoking statements punctuate the story, designed to make us, the readers, think and rethink our position or views. One example is when Don recognises that it is considered completely normal to seek coaching to improve our physical abilities (swimming lessons, martial arts training, cross-country running) but that we don’t view seeking psychological help in the same way. Another example is our inevitable comparisons between our children and their behaviour with ourselves and our own behaviour – we want things to be better for our children than we experienced, but we also don’t want to label our children or view them through the prism of our own failures.
This is a light-hearted – and big-hearted – read that nevertheless deals with some important issues: autism; obesity; parenting and moral rights; science-based research; racism; sexism; addiction; friendship; the role of teachers; the vagaries of human behaviour; and the difficulties but importance of confronting and challenging ‘the system’.