Sunday 21 June 2020

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Japanese do love stories like calligraphy, delicate brush strokes full of meaning, subtle yet straightforward, simple yet complex.

In this novella, a single mother is sent by an Agency to housekeep for a "difficult" client, a Maths Professor who lives in a cottage in the garden of a larger home occupied by his sister in law, a widow. After a car accident he has only 80 minutes of memory cycle for events post that time. To aid him getting through the day he wears the same suit, studded with notes to help him remember things, like that she is his housekeeper and she has a young son, whom he has nicknamed Root. The three of them develop an unexpected friendship through a love of numbers, mathematics and baseball. Now I'm neither knowledgeable about mathematics or baseball, and that might bog some readers down but for me it didn't matter mucvh because what matters is that the writer conveys the Professor's passion about numbers and about his baseball idol Enatsu as a way of showing the man the Professor was but also still is, a passionate person who cares deeply about children and sees beauty in numbers and the evening sky.

The book is narrated by the unamed housekeep, looking back on her years with the Professor. How reliable a narrator is she? Well the book is her memories, one sided perhaps, but clearly full of tender affection for the man, and for the love, inspiration, attention and praise he showed her son, who ended up being a teacher. She of course does not know and so neither can we as readers what exactly the relationship between the Professor and his sister in law was leading up to the car crash, but we can hypothesis. From a practical point of view the idea of notes pinned to the Professor's suit is a bit unfit for the purpose of remembering, but serves another purpose - it makes him appear ridiculous at first sight, like a jester or fool which he is most clearly not, and as such serves to reflect how society often views and treats people with memory loss, dementia etc .

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