[It is 1989. Adam Sharp is playing the piano in a bar in Melbourne while on a business trip ]
I didn’t see her walk in. I saw her when she came over to the piano. In a town that dressed in black, she was wearing a white woollen dress and high boots. Mid-twenties, shoulder-length dark-brown hair against light skin, maybe five foot seven with the heels.
She had a pink cocktail in her hand. We were in a what was technically a cocktail bar, but this was Australia and most people drank beer, wine and simple mixed drinks unless they got into downing shots – B52s and Flaming Lamborghinis. The collection of liqueurs behind the bar was more for show and Shanksy’s cocktail repertoire was limited. But tonight he had produced a pink one. With a cherry and an umbrella.
commentary: Graeme Simsion – and I know this is not what authors want to hear – will always make me smile primarily because I think of the wonderful Don in The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect. I got a review copy of the first book, knew nothing about it, didn’t at all know what to expect, and completely fell in love with the story of the clever academic who sets out on a logical search for his life partner. She appears early in the book, and we all know what will happen (even though she does not match ANY of his criteria for a perfect woman) and we all hugely enjoy watching clever Don slowly catch up with us. I told everyone to read the book, gave copies out as gifts, and correctly predicted it would be a bestseller. The sequel was just as good.
So, I know this is unfair, I just miss Don in this, Simsion’s new book. Adam is much more normal than Don – he is more like a Nick Hornby character, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. He has been with his partner Claire for many years, but an email out of the blue makes him think back to 1989 and the mad love affair he had in Australia with an actress called Angie. Of course he loves his partner, but things are steady and dull now. And as he splendidly says:
What would it say about my relationship with Claire if I felt too vulnerable to respond to an innocuous query [from Angelina]?So he replies to his old flame, and tells us the story of their original affair, which takes up a big chunk of the book, and is a nice light romantic tale. It’s very funny, and convincing. I think the passage above shows how well he writes – it’s a gentle touch, but you get a lot of info from that simple description. Adam is obsessed by music, and throughout the book he tells you what was playing and has all kinds of trivia and unlikely byways about contemporary music of the past 50 years – the author has even provided a playlist that you should listen to while reading the book, and I certainly hauled out some old tracks after reading Adam’s comments on them.
Simsion is also very good on clothes. I particularly liked Adam buying new walking gear (hoping to fit in but failing) because it reminded me of trying to find a picture of a Gore-Tex jacket expensive enough for the first Rosie book.
In the second half of the book, Adam goes to meet up with Angelina – and her husband Charlie. Yes. They all three have a vacation together: old and new friends, meeting up, fun occasion in a beautiful house in the South of France. I would never in a million years have guessed how this was going to pan out, and I doubt any other readers will either. There were some most unexpected twists and turns, which I will not spoiler, and it certainly kept me reading, though some of it made me feel a bit sticky, queasy (can’t define it further than that).
It’s an odd, muddling book: extremely entertaining and funny, and very perceptive on various aspects of life. I love the fact that it was a book about older people, at a different stage in their life but still having strong feelings, able to make mistakes, fall in love, and make right and wrong decisions. (Rather like my recent discovery, Jane Fallon.)
So even if Don and Rosie are missing, I do recommend this one as a thoughtful but very funny look at a mid-life crisis.