The Housekeeper and The Professor

Vintage : Paperback : 2010 : Fiction : 180 pages
Vintage : Paperback : 2010 : Fiction : 180 pages

Ever since reading Sakura’s glowing review of this attractive little book by Japanese author Yoko Ogawa I have been itching to discover her work for myself. 博士の愛した数式 (新潮文庫) – apparently translated as ‘The Professor’s beloved equation’ – follows our narrator (only ever known as ‘the housekeeper’) and the relationship she and her son develop with an aging maths professor; the victim of a devastating car accident that has left him with a memory that lasts just 80 minutes.

Shuffling around his small bungalow in a suit laden with fluttering notes to remind him of the most important aspects of his everyday life, the Professor begins to explore the beauty of mathematics with his two new pupils, this shared love of numbers reducing their lives to a very simple equation (no pun intended); one of love and friendship, most acutely one between the kindly old man and the boy, lovingly nicknamed Root due to shape of his head:

 

square-root

Now, I have NEVER had a head for mathematics, and the thought of a book that centers itself entirely around numbers and equations wouldn’t ordinarily be something that would float my boat. However, maths, in this instance, merely acts as a beautiful, logical conduit for blossoming relationships. Although the numerous baseball references (another of the Professor’s passions) flew right over my British head, the novel’s cosy atmosphere, even in the face of the tragic situation meant that even a wordy word person like myself could appreciate the sums and puzzles that bring the man closer to the people in the world he has lost. However, what we come to realise gradually is the crafty fantasy world Ogawa has created for us. Our narrator knows and eventually comes to love her employer in a very special way; the impression that he does is, essentially, an illusion.

This is an incredibly poetic, harmonious novel … so wonderfully restrained, subtle and Japanese. Do pick it up. It’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, I promise.

...maths n' stuff...
…maths n’ stuff…

12 thoughts on “The Housekeeper and The Professor

  1. My Spanish sister-in-law bought me a copy last Christmas (it’s been a best seller here too). I read it dutifully and, to my surprise, found myself captivated by it. A very simple tale, wonderfully told.

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  2. Math, in all its iterations, has always put me off. I’m still hesitant to look for this book, even with your glowing review. Must convince myself that it’s about people, not math…

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    1. Olga you must! I HATE maths. Really, I’m not exaggerating for dramatic effect, I detest it. However….scarily…..this book made me wish I had more of an affinity with it. Plus! It’s a short one 🙂 only 180 pages

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  3. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed it too:) Novels with science in it can be tricky as I find it takes great skill to make it palatable (and I actually do like maths) and Ogawa does it beautifully. I’m so glad you liked it!

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  4. I am thrilled that you loved this. I thought it was incredible. I have since read more of Ogawa and have been pleasantly surprised by her other books. Well, I say that but I have only read Hotel Iris and this one, but Hotel Iris is nothing like this, its a very dark and disturbing tale. I must read The Diving Pool.

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  5. Pingback: Hotel Iris |

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