Sunday, May 8, 2016

Brief Thoughts: The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor

by Yoko Ogawa

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.0 Stars

He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem--ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.  She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.   And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them.

Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past.  And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son.  The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities--like the Housekeeper’s shoe size--and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.

 The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.

As I suspected, The Housekeeper and the Professor, though beautifully written with an endearing friendship between Root and the Professor, was a bit much for me to handle. I'd mentioned already that I don't normally pick up books that are contemporary human drama pieces. I never really know what to expect from them aside from the day-to-day narrations of a set of people and what it all means to them.

To me, it's interesting, but only to an extent. I was never really cut out for contemporaries.

Nonetheless, I DID enjoy the book with few exceptions: the parts that referenced baseball nearly put me to sleep. In contrast, the math references were interesting even if I have no interest in math. Otherwise, it felt like there was a lot going on that really just detailed random daily anecdotes. Nothing that I really found to be outstanding or memorable.

Mainly, it was the relationships and the interactions between our main characters that evoked the most heart-warming thoughts from me. It can't be easy being around a man who has only an eighty minute duration of memory before things start all over for him. And to become close enough to begin seeing him as a friend. In a way, it's a sad, but lovely story.

In the end, while I liked the short novel, I can admit freely that this is not my typical cup of tea. Whether or not I'll pick up another book similar is going to be up in the air.


This book was read as part of my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.

This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in May 2014.

A First Impression (originally posted on April 17, 2014)

"He has difficulties with his memory," she said.  "He's not senile; his brain works well, but about seventeen years ago he hit his head in an automobile accident.  Since then, he has been unable to remember anything new.  His memory stops in 1975.  He can remember a theorem he developed thirty years ago, but he has no idea what he ate for dinner last night.  In the simplest terms, it's as if he has a single, eighty-minute videotape inside his head, and when he records anything new, he has to record over the existing memories.  His memory lasts precisely eighty minutes--no more and no less."

Drat me and my inability to finish all my reads before I start a new book.

The Housekeeper and the Professor has been on my reading list for a long time, ever since I picked the book up based on how simple and pretty I thought the cover looked.  The summary also gave it some extra points.  Of course, just like about 80% of the books I own, I hadn't read it yet.

A flash of curiosity got me to open up the cover today and start reading a few paragraphs and the next thing I know, I'm done with the first chapter.

So far, I love it.  It's got an interesting concept, even if not the most unique and it feels like it has the makings for a beautiful slice-of-life type story.  The prose is good (I guess for being translated, it was done well) and the descriptions are fairly vivid.  There's a sense of charm interlacing the storytelling and I'm curious to read more even if I'm not entirely certain what kind of story I'm getting into.

One thing's for sure: The Professor seems like a delightful type of person to get to know.

But by far the most curious thing about the Professor's appearance was the fact that his suit was covered with innumerable scraps of notepaper, each one attached to him by a tiny binder clip.  Every conceivable surface--the collar, cuffs, pockets, hems, belt loops, and buttonholes--was covered with notes [...] it soon became clear that he was compensating for his lack of memory by writing down the things he absolutely had to remember and pinning them where he couldn't lose them--on his body.

He asks questions to do with numbers in order to formulate a sense of small talk between himself and others.  He starts with the same routine each day with a different number questions: "What's your telephone number?"  "What's your shoe size?"  And each set of numbers seems to hold much significance for him even if it seems like a randomly common number.

I'm uncertain how well I'll be able to follow the math references in this book.  Fascinating as it all seems when he went on to explain about "amicable numbers", I've never been one to really become drawn to mathematics.  Contrary to popular belief, not all Asians are good with numbers (including me); math was my worst subject.

Nonetheless, we'll see how this book turns out.

I've always leaned more towards the fantasy/adventure and mystery/thriller genres of books.  I'll even occasionally pick up a contemporary romance or a fluffy romantic comedy.  General literary fiction with a touch of human drama and slice-of-life doesn't always interest me because I'm the type who's typically looking for action.  I've never been good at appreciating simplicity in fictional works -- at least not like this.

Mainly, I'm hoping that I can keep up with this book and be able to understand the beauty it presents.

This update was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in April 2014.

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