This feels like my first book review in ages! Today I’m going to review the book I most recently finished; The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.
He is a brilliant maths professor with a peculiar problem – ever since a traumatic head injury seventeen years ago, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.
She is a sensitive but astute young housekeeper who is entrusted to take care of him.
Each morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are reintroduced to one another, a strange, beautiful relationship blossoms between them. The Professor may not remember what he had for breakfast, but his mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. He devises clever maths riddles – based on her shoe size or her birthday – and the numbers reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her ten-year-old son. With each new equation, the three lost souls forge an affection more mysterious than imaginary numbers, and a bond that runs deeper than memory. (Goodreads)
This book was so interesting to read as I loved the incorporation of a memory impairment into the synopsis. I am a social sciences student, and I have studied cognitive psychology and impairments to cognitive processes – such as short term memory – in depth. I have never read a piece of fiction before that manages to incorporate amnesia into a character’s narrative, and I think Ogawa did a magnificent job at portraying a life or experience she has not experienced.
I loved the character of the professor. He is so complex and while on the surface he appears to be an eccentric mathematician who never stops talking about numbers; as the housekeeper (whose name we never learn) gets to know him alongside her son, Root, she realises that there is so much more to him, and that he is a thoughtful, analytical, warm, caring man who seeks comforts in numbers and who used them to rationalise and understand aspects of his life.
As for the mathematics aspect of the book, I loved it! I am terrified of numbers and am fairly bad at maths, however I found the professor’s passion for the intricacies of numbers to be endearing. The professor uses numbers and mathematical theories to express emotions, to cope with his memory loss and confusions and to build a relationship with the housekeeper and her son. I love that the housekeeper seeks to properly understand the professor through his love of mathematics, and she begins to find the beauty within it and the intricacies.
I adore that the housekeeper and Root form a strong, warm, familial relationship with the professor which manages to overcome memory. It is delightfully uplifting and endearing to me. I would recommend this book to anybody who wants a short read with a plot you’ll never have read before, with relationships which are deep and meaningful, and with great writing. For a piece of fiction that has been translated from Japanese, this book flows spectacularly well. Read it!
I hope you guys enjoyed this book review!