Karo’s #CBR5 Review #1: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

This was an unexpected present from a good friend, which automatically makes me like the thing, although the description did not sound like my cup of tea at all: A new housekeeper is sent to work for an ageing Math professor, whose short-term memory only spans 80 minutes, while he remembers every math problem he’s ever solved. The housekeeper quickly adapts to the challenges of this particular job, and comes to enjoy spending time with the professor and the world of maths. All this in a book that’s quite short – it made it seem rather arty. It is the perfect book for a book club discussion, but it turned out to be a lovely little book (I’m afraid at least half of this sentence is meant to sound condescending…).
The story is quite straightforward, without much pondering and soul-searching, which, along with the detached narrative voice and the fact that the only names used are those of Baseball players, keeps it out of the arty/overdone camp that I can’t stand. It’s as much about the setting and the atmosphere as it is about the plot that could have easily been made into a much, much bigger book. As it is, neither the math parts nor the slightly irritating baseball connection is dwelled upon too much, and what remains is a melancholic story about unlikely friends and the importance of memory. And baseball. (Seriously! It should have been cricket. It’s the original mathematical game. I would have read a 600-page novel about THAT. Instead, I just sat there shaking my head, wishing they would get back to the mathematical formulas…)
In short: Don’t let the subject or the review blurbs put you off this book. ‘Tis lovely.

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