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A blog for everything bookish

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Not a great deal happens in the story of The Housekeeper and the Professor, a short but definitely sweet book by Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa. Now I have a bit of a fondness for Japanese fiction, which you might gather over time, as Japanese fiction tends to speak to my feelings about the world: it's lonely, overcrowded, people are a bit mad and sometimes strange and sinister things happen. Not so, however, in this lovely story of a single mother who is given the job of housekeeping for the former professor of mathematics who, following a car accident, has been left with a memory span of only 80 minutes.

Primarily this is a story about relationships and how they grow, in spite of the challenge of the professor's short term memory issues. And there's mathematics in it too, enough and put plainly enough that even I could understand it. And this is the fascination, for me, with this story. Not much happens. The professor never remembers the housekeeper or her son, who he nicknames 'Root' because of his slightly flattened head. Outside of her time with the professor we learn nothing much of the housekeeper's life, not even her name, just a little of the back story about how she ended up a single mother and working as a housekeeper for the agency and how it lead to her working for the professor. But we learn about prime numbers, perfect numbers, Fermat's last theorem, and the general beauty and perfection of pure mathematics and number theory. Oh, and there's a little baseball thrown in.

There's not a great deal to say about this short novel, but I can highly recommend it. If you're looking for a nice, gentle read which opens up the subtle beauty of a subject which confuses many and turns it into something amazing, then give The Housekeeper and the Professor a try.

The Housekeeper and the Professor receives a cleanly 9/10 Biis.