Graeme Simsion’s third book is no Rosie Project Part 3. Drafted partly between the first two Rosie books, The Best of Adam Sharp is a conscious attempt to move away from screwball romance, even if The Rosie Project has been phenomenally successful, selling over three million copies globally and now being developed as a movie.
The Best of Adam Sharp is a more messily adult book dealing with a more realistic version of male-female relationships, lost love, marriage and desire. It’s a conscious project in many senses: highly structured, with cues and clues abounding to movies, songs and books, yet retains an informal air: Adam is just an ordinary bloke working through a life crisis.
The plot is relatively simple. Adam Sharp is a reasonably successful and happy IT consultant with a musical talent and a relaxed attitude to his work and relationship. All that is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of an email from an old holiday romance (Angelina, and her husband Charlie). In true Shakespearean style it all goes downhill from there. It’s pretty much a three act play in structure really: introduction/backstory, chaos, endgame.
The neat resolution is my only real quibble with this book. It feels that life is much messier and so should this story. Simsion writes his books with script drafts in mind and you can see that is what he is doing here. The Rosie Project was a book form homage to a Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn screwball comedy updated by The Big Bang Theory dynamic. This is more a like Woody Allen flick. Although it’s not played for laughs, it has the tight edge that Allen’s pictures usually have. Adam seems to suddenly grow and change in the last few pages, able to be the bigger man and having sudden insights that weren’t really hinted at earlier. It’s verging on being a whodunit.
The ending will translate to screen well. That neatness was there in the Rosie books too, but they were more stylised, more farcical, laugh out loud. The Best of Adam Sharp pitches as a character driven study of attraction and lost love, a less bitter stablemate to Tim Wintons’ The Riders maybe. So it should be that the resolution is less clear in the end.
But there is plenty to like about this book. Adam is well drawn; a bundle of regret and half-assedness. He never really tries at anything and so nothing ever really works out. The way that the plot draws out the love rhombus between him, his partner Claire (off to one side for much of the book) and Charlie and Angelina owes a lot to Agatha Christie’s parlour mysteries – there are hidden clues and revelations, and much of the action takes place in Burgundian hideaway. About half the book is taken up in the lead up, describing the start of both of his major relationships and how they got to the point he is now at.
The country idyll is a pressure cooker handled deftly as Simsion contrasts how each of the players reacts in the heat of the kitchen — Adam avoids, Charlie corrupts and Angelina alternates until it all unravels. It’s interesting to see the version of love that Simsion arrives at: a lovingly shared life of dedication and persistence are worth more, it seems, than passion.
There’s also lot in this book about how family issues resonate down the line, about seeing our parents in the mirror and resiling: reacting to or continuing their mistakes. As much as this is about the four way love struggle, it’s also about the relationship between a man and his (mostly absent) father and how that impacted on relationships time and again.
Mostly though The Best of Adam Sharp is a book about regret, about not taking the chances that life deals you and how those failures end up wearing away at you. It’s a hugely romantic tale, and some of it is quite lovely and moving; some of it is funny and much of it is unsettling. It’s a change of direction for Simsion and it’ll be interesting to see where this path leads him.
(As the title suggests, music runs through and around the book, informing the story and giving the narrator a prop through which he can explore his feelings safely. Simsion includes a playlist and there’s a Spotify version you can listen to as you read. It’s-a good device for contextualising the emotional content, even if the songs may not always be your cup of tea – they mainly cover a wide range of ’60s/’70s music.)
The Best of Adam Sharp is published by Text.