Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Holiday Reading: a clear win for The Rosie Project

Having managed to read five fiction novels over the course of a recent holiday – two 14 hour flights played their part in enabling this – I wondered which one had been the most worthwhile and enjoyable. The conclusion I reached was arguably a touch surprising in view of the competition.

First one completed was Michael Crichton’s “Sphere”, one from the distant back catalogue dating back to 1987, combining science fiction with psychology. Yes, I never lost the urge to keep finding out what happened next. But how frustrating to reach the end of a book of this kind and nurse the feeling that loose ends were not satisfactorily tied up, and that there was scope for something more dramatic. 3 or 4 stars, on balance, but not a patch on Airframe or State Of Fear.

A similar feeling left my overall enjoyment of “The Fear Index” by Robert Harris somewhat tainted. Granted, the amount of high tension that was packed into such a short timescale was masterful, as was the underlying theme of an artificial intelligence algorithm gaining the upper hand over mere humanity in the investment markets. But again not every question was answered by the time the book came to a close. So I’ll say 4 stars.

The only downside to “The Devil Will Come” by Glenn Cooper, whose Library trilogy is definitely a favourite recent discovery of mine, is that any suspense novel focusing on the Vatican and a Papal election is going to come up against Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons” as a benchmark. The twists and the thematic regressions to ancient history in Cooper’s work were well up to expectation, and it’s only the less compelling plot in comparison with Brown’s that brings this one 4.5 stars rather than top marks.

I will withhold the title and author of the fourth book, a conspiracy theory/political thriller, out of courtesy. Regrettable as it may be to speak ill of an indie work published with the Kindle market very much in mind, especially one where the plot was good, it was littered – I mean, really littered from start to finish - with dreadful grammar, appalling punctuation and incorrect homophones, e.g. “tail” for “tale”, that gave away a cavalier attitude towards editing. Only the plot won it 1 star and saved it from being metaphorically hurled against the wall very early on (the folly of treating a Kindle in that manner is of course a residual argument for actual paperbacks).

So onto the winner. For “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion, a clear 5 stars. Here we find the tale of an eccentric Australian genetics professor – some would say a lonely geek – who decides to solve his lack of a permanent and (here’s the key word) suitable female companion not by internet dating, but by devising a searching questionnaire for potential candidates to complete – The Wife Project. A couple of examples, accompanied by multiple choice points scoring options: “My ethical position and behaviour are based on” and “The strongest argument against evolution is”. So much for the more conventional means of detecting a potential lifelong partner via “describe your perfect evening” or “list your favourite music/pet hates/ideal holidays”.

But it’s not all analysis. There’s a life to lead too, via a rigidly scheduled but entirely logical routine, e.g. lobster every Tuesday. And if a restaurant insists on its male diners wearing a jacket, what is the problem with a state of the art cycling jacket, when it meets the dictionary definition of such a garment in every respect? Then cue Rosie’s entrance, chaos and bedlam in tow…

Perhaps it’s the true nonconformist spirit of Professor Tilman, not fitting into conventional societal norms but rendered oblivious to the fact by his superior intellect – as many hilarious examples illustrate throughout – that made “The Rosie Project” the clear winner on this occasion. The author’s blog is here.