The Rosie Project tells the story of a socially challenged genetics professor, Don Tillman, who decides to look for a wife, drawing up a "scientifically valid" questionnaire to assist his quest for the perfect woman. Tillman lectures on Asperger's without realising that he displays its symptoms himself – in his use of language, difficulty in reading social signals and obsession with detail.
The novel is being described as a cross between Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about a teenager with Asperger's, and David Nicholls's One Day, a bittersweet love story – both huge bestsellers.
Its author is Graeme Simsion, 56, an Australian IT consultant with a British father. He told the Observer that he was "flabbergasted" to learn of frenzied bidding by publishers worldwide. Until recently, he had never even dared to imagine that he had the ability to write a novel. Advances of more than £1.2m so far have already allowed him to become a full-time writer.
Penguin is due to release Rosie in April, and is flying Simsion to the UK for pre-publication events. Sam Humphreys, his UK publisher, said she had been "absolutely determined" to outbid rivals: "From the first page, I was hooked. It's such an instinctive and engaging voice."
In another passage, his character meets a girl at a singles party but fails to notice the obvious pick-up line when she complains about the wine and suggests that they go to a wine bar together: "I shook my head. The poor wine quality was annoying, but not critical."
Mary Simpson, chief executive of Spectrum, the charity supporting people with autistic spectrum disorders, said that according to the latest research one in 100 people were affected by the condition. She drew parallels between Tillman's struggle to find a wife and a real individual, who told her: "I've been to several pubs now and I haven't yet found a wife. 'Why hasn't that happened, Mary?' I said. 'Did you talk to anybody?' 'Of course not, Mary.' It's this oddness – total brilliance in other areas – but just this social naivety."
She welcomed the prospect of a book with a "more positive" look at people "who don't quite fit into the world" but who are part of "life's rich tapestry".
Simsion was inspired to tackle Asperger's through several personal encounters with people like Tillman over the years: "In Rosie, I set out to make Don a hero in spite of – or indeed in some ways because of – his different strengths and weaknesses, and certainly hoped that would translate to a broader understanding."
• This article was amended on Sunday 24 February 2013. Sam Humphreys is Simsion's UK, not Australian, publisher. Also, Mary Simpson said according to research, one in 100, not one in 56, people were affected by the condition.
Published originally (Jan.2013) by Text Publishing, Melbourne. I have featured this book five times on my blog so far,link here for one of those pieces.
I am not at all surprised at the worldwide attention the book is receiving.