The Landau Project: James Christie, Glasgow Writer
The Landau Project
Tricky to critique The Rosie Project, the most recent “big” autistic novel published by Graeme Simsion and Penguin, without sounding like I’m serving up the greatest bunch of sour grapes in the known world (you got your rights sold to 35 countries and went to number one in the hit parade while Dear Miss Landau languishes at 289, 578 in the Amazon bestsellers rank and has sold all of 2,000!), but the simple fact is that being published was my life’s ambition, and like Waldo Pepper, all I really wanted to do was tangle one time with my own metaphorical Ernst Kessler.
So let me be quite clear:
I read it, I liked it, I recommend it. Don Tillman, geneticist at a Melbourne University, thinks much in the manner of a tame Dalek, computes the body mass index of everybody he meets, notes his neural overloads, times his schedules with typical autistic precision and then decides he wants a wife. To find one, he puts together a soulless questionnaire to find the perfect partner but instead gets sidetracked by real-life and Eros into the obliging arms of Rosie the barmaid, who is herself in search of her own biological father.
Although it’s never explicitly stated he’s an Asperger, there’s no real doubt he’s, er, one of us; and a couple of scenes in Rosie certainly confirm it for me. In one case, he debates with his class theoretical methods of silencing a screaming baby to stop a sharp-eared enemy pinpointing the location of a group of people.
Consciously considering ways and means of silencing a helpless infant (even in theory) would doubtless appall most neuro-typicals, but both Don and I can do it. We think logically first, emotionally second.
There’s also a short sentence where Don mentions he is “clumsy and incompetent at most forms of sport” and that’s a dead giveaway. To risk a generalisation, we’re all like that, and I know exactly where he’s coming from when, a little later on, he bemoans the fact that “why, why, can’t people just say what they mean?”
What is missing completely, though, is any mention of the fears from which we suffer, particularly when we travel. Don works out his route from Melbourne to Moree in New South Wales with the smooth efficiency of Robbie the Robot whereas I would find overcoming my autistic inertia difficult and have to combat the usual anxieties en route. This is what it was like for a real Asperger (me!) midway over the Atlantic the other month:
“…And the fear comes at me like a blunt-edged wave. Though I’ve done this before, faced this before, it is like a red cloud shaking my limbs, the primal fear of lack of shelter which never, never ever, goes away.
I don’t make a sound. I reassess the facts and options. I have currency, cashcard and credit. I know my route. I am already sharpening up and the rust is coming off, but I know how vulnerable I am and that the fear will always be lying in wait for me.”
But to hone a fine, fun romantic comedy, it probably would be necessary to soft-pedal on some of the harsher realities of autism. I felt Don “re-formed” himself a tad too quickly towards the end (modifying my own behaviour took decades) but my only other gripe would be with one of Don’s later statements, made while he was re-evaluating himself:
I was not wired to feel love.
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