Who is Don Tillman? The Rosie Project Uncovered.

Who is Don Tillman?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since reading Graeme Simsion’s  best-selling novel, The Rosie Project and its sequel: The Rosie Effect.

Both books were written in the first person through the voice of Don Tillman, a quirky scientist who developed a questionnaire to find a wife.  This voice is perfectly maintained throughout, giving the book a strong autobiographical feel as though there is no author. Indeed, Simsion has climbed so deeply inside Don Tillman’s skin, that I had to ask…Is he Don Tillman? They’re seemingly one and the same.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, Don Tillman, reminds me of Sheldon from the hit TV series Big Bang Theory. Yet, although they’re birds of a feather, Don is very much his own man. Well, he would be his own man if I wasn’t questioning how much of the author went into the supposed character. I also have a tough time separating Sheldon the character  from actor Jim Parsons. They also seem so seamlessly the same.

However, while I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Jim Parsons in real life, last Thursday night I had dinner with Graeme Simsion and my antennae were out. Was he Don Tillman? Or, as his creator, was he an exceptionally good impersonator?

So who is Don Tillman?

Don Tillman is an Associate-Professor of Genetics. He has an obsession with detail, is highly scheduled and when it comes to reading social situations,  he’s absolutely clueless. The crux of the book is that he’s looking for a wife. Having failed dismally at conventional dating, he’s now taking a purely logical approach and has devised a questionnaire to screen for potential wife candidates. He hypothesizes that the questionnaire will speed the process up by quickly eliminating unsuitable prospects and ultimately yielding the perfect wife.

The longer answer about Don’s identity is much more complex.

No doubt, Simsion has been asked many times if he’s Don Tillman, and came prepared. The answer is no. Apparently, the character of Don was inspired by a jogging buddy and the book, including the infamous yellow jacket incident, is based on true incidents. Yet, while Simsion denied that he is Don, he does admit to having some geek-like traits and concludes:

“There’s a bit of Don in all of us.”

Indeed, that’s the books’ appeal. That we’re not laughing at Don, but with him. We’ve been in his shoes at least once in our lifetimes, and know that dreadful, crushing all-consuming embarrassment when we make a mistake and all the dreadful, ensuing complications.

However, there are also those of us who have a bit more Don than most. Perhaps, that’s us. Or, perhaps it’s someone we love. Don is our Dad, a work colleague, our husband, a friend or even all of the above. Not that they necessarily recognize themselves in print. More than likely, they’ve also laughed through the book and missed seeing themselves in the mirror.

Apparently, that even includes Bill Gates. At the dinner, Simsion mentioned that Melinda Gates had given Bill the book:

“Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages out loud to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I’ve read in a long time.[1]

This, of course, brings The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect back to me.

It is certainly no secret that I absolutely love these books and have almost been flagging strangers down in the street recommending they read it. With all the millions and millions of books in this world and given that my house is bursting at the seams with books, what is it about these books? Why are they so special?

Personally, I related to the chaotic, seemingly disorganized character of Rosie in The Rosie Project. Rosie is spontaneous and chaotic like myself and I pictured her as a bit of a wild character with black lipstick, locks of wild red curly hair which she swirled into a bun and wearing vintage clothing. I have also know quite a few Don’s in my time, and taken them clothes shopping and given them dating advice.

However, as I was swept along by the story, I didn’t twig that I’d only ever seen Rosie through Don’s eyes. However, in The Rosie Effect, there are just a couple of lines of dialogue between the members of her study group, which revealed that Rosie is more like Don than I’d thought. That it’s more than likely that Rosie is on the Autism Spectrum as well.

Before I head off, I just wanted to emphasize that neither of these books judge or ridicule people on the Autism Spectrum. If anything, they lift the lid on the Autistic mind and help us better understand some its quirks and some of the ways it beats to a different drum. There’s perhaps an implicit hope that through this greater understanding, that we could become more inclusive as a community. Less judgemental. Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a more diverse, eclectic and inclusive community where there is no prescription to belong? You simply come as you are and you’re in.

I will write more about what I learned about Graeme Simsion the man and the writer in my next post. As you can see it was a very productive evening and I even left buying another set of books to give away to some treasured friends.

Have you read the books? If so, I’d love to hear your reflections!

Xx Rowena

PS I was researching dyslexia tonight and came across this spelling of Asberger’s which made me laugh: “My son has mild arseburgers”. Someone commented: “arseburgers” – a minced rump steak?

[1] Bill Gates, http://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Rosie-Project, July 12, 2014.

22 thoughts on “Who is Don Tillman? The Rosie Project Uncovered.

  1. susanpots

    Now I have to look for this book, myself. It sounds like a cross between hilarious and sensitive and I’m not sure what else. Thanks for the tip.

  2. isabellesudron

    I love the rose project! I have yet to read the rose effect but I defintiely will. I felt exactly the ake about how good the character was, it felt like it must be about the author himself but it’s really interesting hearing your impression of meeting the author in person!

  3. roweeee Post author

    I was so intrigued to meet him. He was very personable but definitely had at least a touch of Don about him, which he freely admits. He signed my book: “There a bit of Don Tillman in all of us”.

  4. Colin Thornton

    Oh FFS! It is Graeme Simsion. Not Simpsion. Not Stimson.
    And what is “The Rosie Process”?
    It’s a book review – at the very least you could get the book title and the author’s name right.
    What would Don Tillman say?

  5. Rowena Post author

    Don Tillman would pour me a glass of champagne and be relieved to find that not everyone in this world thinks they’re perfect and has a sense of humour about their mistakes. If you had bothered to read my about page, you will see that I have a serious neurological condition and a device in my brain. Despite meeting the man personally and establishing quite a rapport and introducing about 30 people personally to his book as well as writing my review, I find his surname very confusing. It literally hurts my brain. You seem to be a very judgement, nasty piece of work who sets out to put people down and feel bad about themselves. Go and watch the paralympics and see how real people live and get a life. I make no apologies for my response to the only nasty comment I’ve ever receive in four years of blogging.

  6. Rowena Post author

    Me too, Rae. I went to a Christmas night at our local bookshop and spotted his third novel: “The Best of Adam Sharp”. Bought it, of course but haven’t started reading it yet. Am intrigued to see how he goes writing with different characters. I felt he maintain the voice in the first two books a little too well and wonder whether he’s written something completely different. This is looking like Christmas holiday reading.

  7. scskillman

    I loved this book and its sequel. My sister bought The Rosie Project for me at an author event with Graeme Simsion and she asked him to sign it personally for me and told him I was an author too. I think the book was hugely insightful and discerning about human relationships and behaviour and I particularly loved Don’s relationship with Gene, and his commentary about Gene’s behaviour, with the insights of Aspergers. As to Rosie, I didn’t think she had Aspergers herself, in the first novel. I had a strong picture of what she was thinking and feeling as Don reported her reactions to him. Personally I don’t believe someone who has Aspergers could write a novel like this, showing such insight into the thoughts and feelings of the people who are reacting to the first person narrator. This also applies to other books in the genre, e.g. “The Curious Incidence of the Dog in the Night Time” and “The London Eye Mystery”.

  8. Rowena Post author

    Ha. Glad you’re reading it, Kat. I was in stitches reading it. Same with my Dad. They’re supposedly making it into a film but I haven’t heard anything for some time.

  9. Rowena Post author

    So true. I read the book casting sheldon as the main character. I hope you have a meal in the freezer because you won’t want to stop reading.

  10. Rowena Post author

    My apologies for taking so long to reply to your comment, especially when you shared such great insights into a book I love. You made a great point about the degree of insight required to write that book. He said at the talk that the character was based on a guy he used to go jogging with.
    I had no idea Rosie had Aspbergers in the first book and it was only one line in the second book which really gave it away. Simsion really did a great job with how he handled that…very subtle.
    Anyway, thanks for popping round and sharing your thoughts.
    xx Rowena

  11. athling2001

    I have never read the books, but I will certainly keep an eye out. Both my youngest son and I are Asperger’s people so this book sounds fascinating.

  12. Alistair McDonald

    Yes, wonderful 1st book, at times I had to stop and draw breath, did he really do/say that (Kath and kim did that to me once too, whole other story). Will read the 2nd, I like the idea of that Rosie character twist. Glad ive discovered your blog Rowena. all the best.

  13. tidalscribe

    I loved The Rosie Project and only realised last week there are two sequels. How fascinating to meet the author. In our family it is only in recent years that we have realised the various strange cousins and aunties and uncles were surely on a spectrum of some sort. But aren’t we all? I once heard my aunt saying to someone ‘Enid says she has two obsessive daughters’ . – Hang on, I thought, my mothet’s name is Enid!

  14. Rowena Post author

    Oops. We have quite an cast of characters through our family. I am obsessive and much of the family is as well. I meet a lot of kids on and off the spectrum and quite a lot of people in general and now have what I think is a pretty good radar for people on the spectrum. I don’t go looking for it but when I come across it, it’s very obvious to me but not necessarily to others. I find it’s can be quite important to work this out because it can help prevent certain clashes and when someone appear pedantic to me, I just let it go through to the keeper. There are few things which really sets them off and with kids, that usually involves huge meltdowns which are best avoided.
    Best wishes,

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