Last night our book group met to discuss The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. This very slim novel—readable in just a few hours—packs in a lot to think about but, as we discovered, not a huge amount to talk about as a group. The story is narrated by an unnamed housekeeper who is assigned to work at the home of "the Professor" (we never learn his name either), an elderly, formerly well-known mathematician who suffered brain damage in a car accident many years before. He is still sharp as a tack, mathematically and otherwise, but the injury has caused him to be able to remember back only 80 minutes. As soon as 80 minutes are up, he can recall only what occurred up to 1975 (when the accident occurred).
So, every morning, the housekeeper has to introduce herself to him. His way of getting to know people is to ask them questions about numbers, like "How much did you weigh at birth?" or "What is your shoe size?" Then he talks about why that particular number is special or interesting or related to some other number. To remind himself of important things, he scribbles notes on scraps of paper and attaches them to his suit with mini binder clips. But even when he reads these notes, he doesn't have any memory of having written them, just the sense that they must have been of some importance to him when he wrote them.
At the urging of the Professor, the housekeeper starts bringing her young son along with her to his house, and the three strike up a curious but very warm friendship based initially on an appreciation of and enthusiasm for the inherent beauty of numbers—and a mutual love of baseball.
It's a sweet and simple book, but the writing/translation is elegant, the plot interesting and thought-provoking, and the characters charming. So while I don't think it was an ideal choice for sparking a lively discussion, we were all happy to have read it—and we did talk about it some, just not as much as we do with some other books.
Our January pick is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.