Monday 9 November 2020

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ogawa Youko (Contemporary Fiction)

Title: The Housekeeper and the Professor
Author: Ogawa Youko
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 2010 (2003)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Borrowed from the Library

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.


The Housekeeper and the Professor is very different from the other works I have read by Ogawa Youko so far. It's a touching story, if a little bittersweet at times, and it offers an interesting look at bonds of family and friendship and how they can be formed, alongside consideration of the role of memory in relationships. Mathematics is also an important feature, but for me, as a firm humanities girl, that part fell a little flat, and when the maths discussion became too lengthy, I did skim though the number talk until the story resumed. For maths lovers that will not, of course, be an issue. Overall, though, this is an excellent and thoughtful read that will leave you feeling uplifted. 4.5 stars from me.

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