The Housekeeper & The Professor – Yoko Ogawa

I am well aware that I am very, very late to the ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ party. It’s a book that pretty much half of the blogosphere has read and loved. It’s interesting with books like these; if I see too many reviews (and I mean more than six) of one book my brain goes one of three ways. I either want to read them instantly, start to feel nonchalant about them, or go off the idea of reading them for a good six months or so. I am sure I am not the only one in that? Let me know if you ever get any of those thoughts? Anyway back to the book…

‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ is really a tale of two lonely people coming together and it changing their lives forever. The unnamed housekeeper of the title has come into her job after becoming a single mother disowned by her family as a disgrace. Her latest job happens to be for the professor of the title (sorry they don’t have names, so if it starts to sound a little samey in my bookish thoughts be assured it never is in the book) when she is hired by his rather severe sister in law. The professor was once a rather renowned mathematician though after a tragic accident has a memory that lasts no longer than 80 minutes yet he remains obsessed by numbers always asking what peoples shoes sizes are, their date of birth etc and analyzing what lies behind that number and judges people accordingly.

Through the housekeepers son, who the professor renames Root, these two people strike up an unlikely but delightful friendship (I did keep worrying some big romance was coming, but Ogawa is much too clever for that) and it’s this that you follow through the rest of the book. Though there is never really a huge plot snippets pop in and secrets are revealed which make you read on along with the characters and Ogawa’s prose. It’s a subtle book which never beats you over the head with how clever and thought provoking it is or how much it has to say.

I think that the professor maybe one of my favourite characters that I have had the fortune to read this year, and certainly one of the most unusual. In a scene where the professor awakes from a fever and goes through the notes attached to his suit (which help him become acquainted with his life at that point) and reads ‘you have a memory of 80 minutes’ almost broke my heart as Ogawa shows the professors breaking, I couldn’t help but imagine how that would feel every single day for the rest of your life.

If you have happened to flick through the book you will see there are quite a few maths equations, do not let that put you off. I will admit I wasn’t sure I was going to be a fan as though I was good at maths at school I never really enjoyed it (which has always baffled my mother). There are some equations but despite looking really complex the book uses them to move the characters and occasionally the plot forward in a very original way. Who knew a book with equations could be such an emotional journey. Oh and yes I did spot there are exactly eleven chapters which seems apt, the perfect prime number of parts of a rather perfect book. 10/10

I can’t suggest a book that I think is quite like this, but if anyone else knows of any do let me know. For any of those of you who haven’t had the joy of this book pop here for an international giveaway. Now who has read the book, what did you think? And was do you think when lots of the same books appear on blogs, just out of interest?


Filed under Books of 2010, Review, Vintage Books, Yoko Ogawa

37 responses to “The Housekeeper & The Professor – Yoko Ogawa

  1. I loved the book and I’m someone who hates Math. The emotions are so tender and beautiful in the book it’s hard not to fall in love with the characters! Wonderful wonderful read.

  2. kimberlyloomis

    I adored this book for all of the reasons you stated. It was rich in character development and truly superb story telling delivered in a completely unique manner. I had the same concern with the math but, in the end, I found those equations to be wonderful tools within the context of the tale.

    As for blogs about certain books being talked about all over the blog-o-sphere… it really depends upon the book itself. When people talk about certain pop fiction titles, however, it’s a completely different situation. It’s like seeing the trailer to a movie that looked okay AD NAUSEUM. At a certain point I just don’t care.

  3. This is one of my favorite books! Ogawa is just brilliant! Her writing is beautiful and emotional and just truly engages the reader. I loathe math, but that did not put me off one bit with this book. In fact, I think the manner in which Ogawa integrated math into the text made me actually like math a bit more. Such a wonderful read! I’m glad you enjoyed it, Simon!

    With regards to some books being posted about all over the blogging world, well that can be a bit annoying, depending on the book.

    • I really enjoyed it Nadia, I thought it was wonderful and have been raving about it ever since. I am wondering what Ogawa’s other work is like as I am very keen to read more.

      I wouldnt go as far as to say I liked maths more because of the book, I could see what makes some people passionate about it though!

  4. I must be the only one left that hasn’t read this! It would be perfect for Bellezza’s Japanese Lit Challenge…

    I do get tired of seeing the same book reviewed over and over, and may even choose not to read it for that reason.

  5. I’m the other person who hasn’t read it yet! It sounds great and I’m not afraid of maths.

    I sometimes switch off if there are too many reviews of the same book and may wait until the hype dies down to try and read the book. Of course if I’ve written one of the reviews then I’m interested to see how mine differs from the others.

    • I do the waiting around normally, and yet this one has been calling to me for some time and so I thought stuff it, I want to read it so I shall lol.

      Once I have read a book I too want to know what others think, its a double edged sword.

  6. Oh no, I still haven´t read this book either. It´s getting a bit embarassing. And it does sound very good to me (and the cover is beautiful), although I´m not a maths person.

  7. I do notice it when a lot of book bloggers read the same book, but I have unusual tastes so it’s not typically a book I’d be interested in. I hate math but this one actually sounds really neat! Especially since I’ve been on the lookout for great Japanese authors.

    • This is a great Japanese novel. I did see a comment somewhere, probably amazon, where someone said it wasnt Japanese enough. What could they mean? It doesn’t bang home its setting but you do very much get a sense of where its set.

  8. I haven’t read this. And maybe I’m blind, or I visit different blogs to you, but I have only seen this reviewed on one other blog. I hadn’t realised it was so popular.

    But yes, I do get sick of seeing the same book pop up on blogs at the same time… but generally only if it is a brand new book, fresh off the presses. If it’s an older book that’s been kicking around for a few years/decades it makes me think there must be something good about it to be suddenly so popular.

    • I felt like at one point I saw it everywhere when the large paperback came out. However it clearly did the trick as I went and read it in the end ha.

      I agree with you about older books and seeing it pop about here and there actually, good point indeed.

  9. You are the first I have seen of this book, so I must be in a different blogosphere! I was also going to say that if you are late to the party, then I wasn’t even invited!

    • How bizarre, midn you there are lots of blogs out there so we obvioulsy weave in and out of similar blogging circles lol. You are welcome to join this party late with me Sandy.

  10. gaskella

    I loved it! It was so subtle and understated, yet powerful, and yes, the Professor is the most brilliant character.

  11. I’ve only seen this reviewed by Eva so I had no idea it was so popular! But I did see it in the bookshop and wondered if I should get it, only Eva didn’t care for it much. Now I have your review to go on now, which provides a bit of balance and I think I will try it after all 🙂

    Yeah when books get popular I tend to buy them (because otherwise I’ll forget), but I won’t read them for months or years. I wait till the fuss has died down so it feels more like it’s just me and the book, y’know?

    • Eva

      I totally recognise I’m the only blogger on the planet who didn’t love this one! And unlike a lot of readers, I *am* a math person…I think numbers are beautiful and as a child I’d often play games with them.

      I think part of it was excessively high expectations…I was expecting something truly groundbreaking and original. Whereas I had this weird deja vu feeling when I was reading, as if I’d see all this before somewhere.

      I didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t love it. Ok, I’m going to stop trying to justify myself in rambles now. 😉

      • No need to justify yourself at all! It’s better to have your expectations lowered anyhow 🙂

      • Theres nothing wrong with not loving a book everyone else does Eva, I have had that with Lord of the Rings, Catcher in The Rye etc etc, they just cant appeal to all of us. I did have you down for being a fan of this one though hahaha.

    • I didn’t realise Eva hadn’t like it so much, which surprises me as I thought it would be a rather Eva book. I think if I was buying books this year I would be in the same boat as you. You get them because they are gaining attention and then just leave them for later.

  12. Diane

    Simon, I also loved this book and have just started Hotel Iris, by this author….good so far.

  13. I was one of the many who loved this book for its subtle and tender evocation of the relationship between two lonely people. It is an incredibly clever book in its apparent simplicity, not least in the nameless characters. Very powerful and wonderful. Apparently Hotel Iris, her newest novel, is completely and utterly different, yet that excites me too.

    Too many reviews of the one book tend to deter me too and I thought it was just me being contrary! It depends though… like you, it can sometimes make me want to read it immediately and others make me sniff and think “not for me”. Hype is a funny thing and affects me in different ways on different days.

    • Lol I think I can be very contrary so I think thats probably why I react the way that I do to certain books I see lots of hehehe.

      Hotel Iris sounds marvellous. I think I want the Ogawa works!

  14. I haven’t read this book either but would like to.

    As for books mentioned all over the blogosphere – yes, I get turned off. Even if it looks really really great. I’ve always been that way. I’m a rebel without a cause when it comes to popular fiction or literature. However, for those bloggers whose opinions I value (every blogger in my feed), I make a notation of the book.

    This gal likes being unique (I know, I know, there’s no such thing). That said…. I just finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I guess I’m not always so contrarian…

  15. I loved this one as well. I thought it was very different from anything else I’ve ever read. For being such a short book, it was still able to present complete and compelling characters. I loved the relationship between the old man and the boy too.

    • I agree with you 100% Kristen, a book this short that can say and do so much with such full characeters to me is masterful. I thought the relationships between them all was wonderful.

  16. I’m pretty much the same way when it comes to seeing the same book on loads of blogs. I either have to have it RIGHT NOW or I get put off for a while and then pick it up in my own time. I’m sure publishers would prefer that reviews were staggered anyway so they get more exposure.

    I haven’t read this book yet, but I do like the look of it but I have just ordered Peyton Place on the strength of you and Polly raving about it!

    • I hadnt thought about the benefits of staggered reviews for publishers. Mind you some publishers get a bit agro about their back catalogues I have found.

      I think you will love Peyton Place, its stunning!

  17. I thought this was a brilliant book. I loved how it used the relationships between numbers (um, sometimes called equations) to illustrate the relationships between people.

    I found myself constantly wondering: how could the housekeeper love the professor, knowing he couldn’t even remember her from day-to-day? And, even more, what did the professor feel for the housekeeper, this person who seemed like a stranger but who treated him with love and kindness.

    Fascinating. If you’re interested, you can read my full review: Barb’s review: The Housekeeper and the Professor.

  18. Pingback: Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa « Savidge Reads

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