Case Study: Dialogue – “The Rosie Project”

“The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion is novel about a guy with Asperger’s that doesn’t seem to know he has aspergers,  discovering himself while trying to acquire a wife. Very entertaining and at times hilarious read.

I’m posting about it for the brilliant example of dialogue in the second chapter, but the novel is also a case study in character development and plot progression.

The dialogue is found in a section in which the main character, a professor of genetics, is giving a lecture on Asperger’s disorder, filling in for a friend who was supposed to give the lecture. The audience is Asperger’s afflicted children ages 8-13 and their parents, and a great deal of comedy is derived from the difference in intelligence within these two groups. One parent had asked if Asperger’s caused emotional detachment, which the main character affirmed, but argued that this is not a disadvantage, then provided an example where emotions can cause problems.

Below is the dialogue in question:

“Imagine,” I said, “you’re hiding in a basement. The enemy is searching for you and your friends. Everyone has to keep totally quiet, but your baby is crying.” I did an impression, as Gene would, to make the story more convincing: “Waaaaaa.” I paused dramatically. “You have a gun.”

Hands went up everywhere.

Julie jumped to her feet as I continued. “With a silencer. They’re coming closer. They’re going to kill you all. What do you do? The baby’s screaming–”

The kids couldn’t wait to share their answer. One called out, “Shoot the baby,” and soon they were all shouting, “Shoot the baby, shoot the baby.”

The boy who had asked the genetics question called out, “Shoot the enemy,” and then another said, “Ambush them.”

The suggestions were coming rapidly.

“Use the baby as bait.”

“How many guns do we have?”

“Cover its mouth.”

“How long can it live without air?”

As I had expected, all the ideas came form the Asperger’s “sufferers.” The parents made no constructive suggestions; some even tried to suppress their children’s creativity.

I raised my hands. “Time’s up. Excellent work. All the rational solutions came from the aspies. Everyone else was incapacitated by emotion.”

I like this dialogue block for its rhythm, for starters. Notice the long block of first person dialogue and narrative text, followed by sharp suggestions by the children, capped on the end by another long block of narration. The increase in speed is started with “You have a gun.” The situation escalates visually – “Hands went up everywhere,” “Julie jumped to her feet.”

The dialogue flows well. The reader is taken along with the flow of chants by the kids, “shoot the baby, shoot the baby,” and the absurdity of the situation ensures we are carried straight into the next turn in the flow – “shoot the enemy,” with a bonus italicization for increased sharpness.

The dialogue is hilarious. Comic understatement: “I did an impression as Gene would, to make the story more convincing: “Waaaaa.”” The period at the end, rather than exclamation point, helps us visualize a socially awkward professor going through the motions of social interaction and demonstration without really “getting it.”  Insulting compliments: “All the rational solutions came from the aspies. Everyone else was incapacitated by emotion.” The use of “aspies” would seem insulting, except the kids with Asperger’s don’t care – they are clearly better at solving problems than their parents.

I recommend reading the whole book. It was originally published in ebook format only, which is interesting enough, especially because the author describes the process in short at the end of the novel.

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