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.

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12 Responses to “The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa”

  1. Kristen M. Says:

    I’m still wary of reading any of Ogawa’s other books because of the heavy subject matter. I think this one was the perfect blend of bitter and sweet though. I’m glad you finally read it!

  2. kimbofo Says:

    I’ve wanted to read this one for ages… I read Hotel Iris last summer and found it totally fascinating, a weird mix of beauty and terror!

  3. Tony Says:

    I quite liked this when I read it (for JLC3!) – if you check out my review, you’ll see I was inspired to do some maths of my own 😉

    Hoping to read ‘Hotel Iris; this month, so I hope that’s just as good 🙂

  4. Steph Says:

    Don’t worry! You’re not the last person to have read this book, because I still haven’t read it though I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. I’m actually really interested in how the issue of memory (and even math!) is treated in fiction, so I’ve always wanted to read this one. I was really interested to see that you found it so gentle, because from what I’ve heard, Ogawa’s second novel (Hotel Iris) is quite different in tone.

  5. Lucy Says:

    I found this in Oxfam a couple of months ago and was so chuffed. It’s now joined the ranks of my TBR pile. ‘Hotel Iris’ by Ogawa is also on my wish list for my birthday. I’m glad you weren’t too fussed by the maths and that it doesn’t bog the book down because numbers aren’t really my thing!

  6. Nymeth Says:

    I’ll join Steph – I still haven’t read this one either! Hopefully sometime soon.

  7. sakura Says:

    Thanks for your comments everyone! I really enjoyed this book and do want to read her other ones, although I’m a little wary of the subject matter. However, all the reviews have been pretty stellar so I think I’ll have to see for myself!

  8. Parrish Says:

    Loved this & The Diving Pool (a collection of 3 tales) even wrote posts on them. have also got Hotel Iris, although haven’t yet read it. not sure why as I thoroughly enjoyed them, just not got round to it I guess.

  9. savidgereads Says:

    Of course someone has to keep the fire burning, but I think the great thing about blogging is that the conversation keeps going be you the first, last or in the middle guest at the party. I still think about this book on occasion and remember how I didnt expect it to convince me and yet it totally did.

  10. novelinsights Says:

    Hmmm… I’m not sure I’m compelled to read this. I read Hotel Iris recently and am still mulling over my thoughts! Sounds like you enjoyed it but maybe it didn’t blow you away…


  11. […] since reading Sakura’s glowing review of this attractive little book by Japanese author Yoko Ogawa I have been itching to discover her […]


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