Edible Psychology Book Club – The Housekeeper and the Professor
Welcome to the first ever edition of the Edible Psychology book club! This is a series of posts which I have been thinking about writing for while, and since it’s been cold and snowy here in England, it is the perfect weather to curl up on the couch with a good book, and of course, a cup of tea.
This is England after all – it’s difficult to do much of anything without a cup of tea, even if I mostly drink peppermint or other herbal teas 😉
Anyway, the idea behind these Edible Psychology book clubs is that there are all sorts of wonderful books – fiction, non-fiction, self-help, etc. – about topics relevant to food and psychology (I tend to read primarily the ones related to psychology), and I thought it would be fun if I told you about some of my favorites and/or reviewed new books as I read them.
It is difficult to know where to start, as there are so many great books to mention…but for today, I thought I would write about ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ by Yoko Ogawa, which my parents gave me for Christmas, and which I highly recommend!
As far as I can tell, this book is purely fictional. However, it is hard to believe that someone could create such a wonderful, touching, and detailed story with no essence of truth or relevant personal experience. I guess that is why I write a blog rather than writing fiction myself – I am always blown away by such creativity.
Anyway, getting back to the book…one of the main characters in the story ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ is a mathematics professor, who suffered a head injury in a car crash years earlier, and because of this, is no longer able to form new long-term memories after the crash. Specifically, he remembers everything from before the car crash (e.g, his childhood, his career), and everything from the past hour and twenty minutes of his life. However, his memory only lasts for eighty minutes before starting over again. The other main characters are the housekeeper who comes each day to look after the professor’s house and to shop and cook for him, and her ten-year old son.
The entire story centers on these three characters and their interactions, which, as you can imagine, are quite complicated by the fact that the housekeeper and her son are introduced to the professor afresh each day when they arrive at his house, and he has no memory of ever meeting them before.
In spite of this complicating factor, it is difficult to imagine more wonderful or devoted friendships between any three people, and it made me think a lot about what it would be like to have a relationship with someone who couldn’t remember ever meeting you before.
As someone interested in neuropsychology, I also found it fascinating to think about the coping strategies the professor uses in the story to compensate for his memory difficulties in everyday life, and the emotions which he experiences as a result of his memory impairment. I don’t want to give too much away, but the author does a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life.
An interesting element to the story is that as a former mathematics professor, numbers are what comfort the professor and orient him in an otherwise complicated and scary world. Numbers play a major part in the professor’s life, and therefore, in the story. Interestingly, seeing numbers through the professor’s eyes changed the way I saw them myself, and for the first time in years, I found myself really enjoying and thinking about numbers even when I wasn’t reading the book.
I didn’t notice this until I was quite far into the novel myself, but the author never actually uses the names of any of the three main characters (other than a nickname for the housekeeper’s son). Somehow, this seemed to make it even easier for me to identify with the characters and put myself in their shoes.
This story made me feel a range of emotions, but I would describe this book as a touching, uplifting story about living in the present – something which I would like to focus on myself – and the unlikely, and often wonderful, friendships which happen along the way. For me, it was also a reminder of how important friendships and relationships are, and what a difference we can each make just by being kind and compassionate toward the people we encounter in everyday life. Additionally, this story is a lesson in treating others the way you would want them to treat you, and the fact that kindness is generally met/repaid with kindness.
I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did – and if you are in a cold climate, I recommend reading it with a cup of tea, preferably next to the fireplace.
I hope you enjoyed my very staged photos as well as the book review. 🙂 I would love to hear what you think of the story if you have read it before, or after you have read it.