Saturday, August 29, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel by Yoko Ogawa

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ultimately, this novel seemed more an excuse to incorporate a lot of magical math tricks into a narrative than the character study it should have been. As a reader, I never fully committed to believing in or caring for Root, the housekeeper, or the professor, and I thus lacked that driving force that compels a reader to find out "what's next." The housekeeper (and narrator) told the story so matter-of-fact-ly that I could never see or feel her as a true and honest character; the professor exhibited no potential for growth or change; and enough insight was never provided into Root's character to understand or empathize with what motivated him.

As I read, I wondered: am I supposed to see a love of math develop throughout this book? If so, whose: the housekeeper's (who gives us her personal accounts of increasing fascination with the subject) or Root's (who in the end becomes a math teacher)? By the end of the novel, I still could not answer that question, and although in some instances this may not be an important enough question to answer, I felt that in this case it was one of the novel's failings.

Also, in terms of plot development, Ogawa never explains the loyalty between the sister-in-law and the professor. She is so protective of him, but the story behind this is never explained. I think having included this backstory at some point in the novel--perhaps about 2/3 of the way through, so as to keep some suspense compelling the reader forward--would have added depth to both characters and thus to the novel.

In my mother's reading club, the #1 fan of this book was a math teacher, and I can honestly say that I understand why a math teacher would enjoy it. Maybe if a comparable novel were written about a language professor, I would have been enamored of it, too. However, since the subject matter alone is not enough to enthrall me, I was left with an overall feeling of disappointment. Ogawa demonstrated clear potential with all of his characters and poignant situations into which he placed them, but he never let them become real enough to earn "novel" status.

Note:I must allow that because there is no translator acknowledgement on the cover, I did not realize this was a translation until after I had finished it. Whether this is an unfair judgement or not, I am certain I would have read this book differently if I had known it was a translation. How this would have affected my reading, exactly, I cannot quite say, but I know I give certain allowances to authors when their work is being translated that I do not give to authors whose native tongue is English.

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1 comment:

Tony said...

Pretty damn cool review. :)