Thirty-nine-year-old genetics professor Don Tillman decides it’s high time he found a wife and settled down. He doesn’t have much time for or interest in conventional dating methodology, and that’s not gone particularly well for him in the past, so he decides to treat the wife search like any other scientific project. He devises a detailed forensic questionnaire that potential mates can fill in to apply for the position of Mrs Tillman – though it’s mostly designed to help him weed out unsuitable candidates without actually wasting his time getting to know them in person.
Applicants prove a little more difficult to assess remotely than Don was expecting, so he enlists the help of his romantically successful (i.e. lecherous) academic colleague Gene to help pick dates. When a somewhat flamboyant younger woman named Rosie, who is not only a vegetarian but also likes a cigarette (both of which should have ruled her out instantly), shows up at Don’s office, he thinks Gene is playing a practical joke.
But Rosie isn’t actually there for the Wife Project. She doesn’t know anything about it. She is there because she needs help in tracking down her real father (and in proving to the lucky man that he actually holds that honour) and is hopeful a genetics professor with access to DNA testing equipment can help. Don inadvertently finds himself involved in an increasingly madcap mission to take surreptitious DNA samples from all the likely suspects. In fact, Don finds himself enjoying spending time with her so much, it’s just a pity Rosie is so damn unsuitable.
Whilst it loses a bit of its edge and heads into more conventional romcom territory towards the end, this is the first novel in quite a while that has required me to disguise a snort of laughter as a sneeze when reading it on the bus. The extreme lengths to which Rosie and Don go in trying to acquire the many DNA samples stops short of becoming farcical thanks to Don’s dry, unintentionally deadpan, sometimes even clinical narration.
Don is as hapless as Adrian Mole, but without any of the pretension (indeed, Don actually is a genius – just not in interpersonal relations). Graeme Simsion hints at but never belabours the idea that Don is somewhere on the autistic spectrum, in the same way that The Big Bang Theory never diagnoses Sheldon Cooper. Don has many of the same idiosyncrasies as Sheldon, but the humour comes from his disastrous attempts at romance and his misunderstandings rather than obnoxiousness.
Ultimately it’s a love story of the ‘opposites attract’ variety. Whether it’s plausible that a young free spirit like Rosie would spend any time with an oddball like Don if they didn’t have a mission is not the point. It’s a feel-good story without too much schmaltz, and I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel.