The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa
3 January, 2012
I have heard so much about this book ever since I started blogging and was eager to get my hands on it as it had my favourite combination of fiction with science, in this case mathematics. But as usual, I’m always about a year behind everyone else but someone has to keep the fire burning, right? I haven’t read anything else by Yoko Ogawa and wanted to start with this title because the subject matter seemed a little less extreme.
The Housekeeper and The Professor is a tale of two strangers who form a tenuous bond of friendship and love in what can only be described as difficult circumstances. The Professor who had trained at Cambridge and was once the shining beacon of the mathematical world now lives in a memory loop that lasts only 80 minutes after a devastating car crash. His glittering career in ruin, he is looked after by his sister-in-law who hires a housekeeper for his daily needs. And so the Housekeeper arrives. But something changes when the Professor meets her son, whom he names Root, and soon a bond forms between the three of them cemented by their love of baseball and numbers.
I know there’s a film adaptation in Japanese which I haven’t seen yet, but the book was just how I imagined it to be. Soft, gentle and poignant. It is reminiscent of a slower era, the frantic pace of life slowed right down so that you can focus on the minutiae of daily life. And these particular details themselves are like little droplets of life condensed. The food we eat, the daily rituals, the small celebrations. When it comes down to it, it is these things and the people we do them with that are important.
Although I was looking forward to the scientific bits in the novel, I surprisingly found it to be a little superfluous. I guess for a novel to work, the story needs to move forward without it being too bogged down by theory. Somehow I found myself skipping the mathematical bits to continue with the story. Ogawa is good at showing the importance of mathematics to the Professor who lives solely in his head until he meets the Housekeeper and her son, but the beauty of mathematics somehow surpassed me.
The Housekeeper and The Professor is a short, sweet snapshot of friendship and family that can be found in unexpected places and I enjoyed reading this tale.
I read this as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 5.