"He treated Root exactly as he treated prime numbers. For him, primes were the base on which all other natural numbers relied; and children were the foundation of everything worthwhile in the adult world."
I read The Housekeeper and the Professor solely because Alley read it and said it was pretty good. This might be an oversimplification- I also read it because I love Japanese fiction*, because I actually like maths quite a lot even though I don't feel passionate about it, and because, well, Japan. The combination of these things made me buy it for my kindle minutes after I read Alley's review, and the point is I'm not sure I would have even heard of it had Alley not read it.
Nice work, Alley, is basically what I'm saying. You keep reading those books so I can figure out what to read next.
SO. This book is so lovely. That's the main adjective I can think of for it, but it's also quiet, and short, and fairly sad. Because of course it is, because Japan. The story is that of a housekeeper (duh) who goes to work for the professor (also duh), a maths genius whose memory only lasts for 80 minutes before it's wiped clean because of a car crash he was in some years back.** He spends his days working on maths problems for obscure journals, she spends her days watching him, learning about the mysteries of numbers, and generally wondering what goes on in his magnificent, but broken, brain.
Now that I'm thinking about this book in a reviewing way, I'm realising that this book fits in a lot of stuff in so few pages. A lot of this is in subtext, and you can imagine a grand past relationship in just a few lines, but it still feels like a huge achievement to have created this whole world that's very detailed in less than 200 pages. I think the fact that there are only three, at a push four, main characters helps, but the way it stays so deeply focused, and the way Ogawa really tells the story she wants to tell, makes it feel really special, at least to me.
And, the maths. I don't think it's important to like maths before you read this, because the book kind of takes care of that for you. The housekeeper says that she was bad at maths at school, but that doesn't matter because the professor is SO in love with maths, and numbers, and the general rationality of it all, that he makes the housekeeper (and, by extension, the reader) at least interested in what he has to say, and at best, maybe a little bit in love with numbers herself. I've literally never read a passion for numbers expressed so beautifully, or so convincingly- Ogawa makes maths sound almost like poetry, and I never thought I would compare the two in my whole life. But there it is.
I don't know what more I can say about this book to make it sound like something you need to read. I feel like, if you need a lot of action and drama and conflict, this is absolutely not going to be the book for you. It's so undramatic, so slow and dreamy and (here it comes again) lovely that it's a perfectly relaxing read- you'll feel a little bit sad once it's finished, and that'll mostly be because it's finished. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, and already I want to read it all over again, which I think says a lot.
Plus, did I mention that it's just lovely?
*Like that's actually a category that means anything... But I do tend to like Japanese writers, so I thought I'd give this a go.
**If this all sounds like 50 First Dates to you, you should probably stop watching Adam Sandler movies and read this book. Just sayin.