The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa

As interesting as all this was, it could never match the experience of simply spending time with the professor. I remember when he taught us about the spell cast by placing numbers under this square root sign. It was a rainy evening in early April. My son’s schoolbag lay abandoned on the rug. The light in the Professor’s study was dim. Outside the window, the blossoms on the apricot tree were heavy with rain.

I sunk right into this, like a comfortable old chair from the first page. At once happy and relieved to be free of the gut wrenching plot turns in Westeros for a time, but I was carried along by the simple and elegant prose.

After the year of his accident the entire life of the professor only lasts eighty minutes. As he spends his days solving problems in Mathematics journals his sheer enthusiasm and passion for numbers touches and inspires a mild, patient house keeper and her young son, who he christens Root for the shape of his head, and they form a close and loving bond, despite him forgetting them in under two hours.
To aid him the professor attaches notes to his clothes, all attached with clips, a life in post-it’s, and it’s one of these that reminds him of the house keeper every morning and her son. As she learns how to fit into his short term memory and bridge the gaps when he forgets them, the housekeeper falls under the spell of numbers, engaged by the Professors infections enthusiasm. It is Root that adapts more easily, perhaps due to the simplicity that children see in everything, the absence of over thinking that becomes habit as you get older. The Professor also has an intense drive to look after and protect children, which Root responds to. They slowly try to interact more in his life, with the trip to the baseball game an enjoyable read, as they find ways to hide from him the fact that his favourite player had retired. Other attempts, such as a trip to the dentist are less successful, but the housekeeper, after being let go and re-hired, is at all times gentle and considerate. She uncovers small snippets of his life which hint at an interesting back story, but they are never followed up on, and it keeps the story uncluttered, a heartfelt recollection from the housekeeper of someone close to her heart.

Most, if not all of the Maths in the book flew straight over my head, and in all honesty I was not caught up in the Professors enthusiasm as the Housekeeper was. Ogawa didn’t really delve too deeply into the impact of memory, or perhaps I missed them like the maths, but then there is no reason why there should be, this is a gentle story, recollected beautifully by the housekeeper, and I read it in a day, although I did not want to reach the end the closer I got.

“Good!” he almost shouted, shaking the leather strap of his watch. I didn’t know what to say. “It’s important to use your intuition. You swoop down on the numbers, like a kingfisher catching the glint of sunlight on the fish’s fin.” He pulled up a chair, as if wanting to be closer to the numbers. The musty paper smell from the study clung to the professor.

A Dance With Dragons 2: After the Feast – George R.R. Martin

She had lost all sense of how long she had been imprisoned in this cell, high up in one of the seven towers of the Great Sept of Baelor. I will grow old and die here, she thought, despairing.
Cersei could not allow that to happen. Her son had need of her. The realm had need of her. She had to free herself, no matter what the risk. Her world had shrunk to a cell six feet square, a chamber pot, a limpy pallet, and a brown wool blanket thin as hope that made her skin itch, but she was still lord Tywin’s heir, a daughter of the Rock.
Exhausted by her lack of sleep, shivering from the cold that stole into the tower cell each night and famished by turns, Cersei came at last to know she must confess.

If you’re looking for spoilers..fill your boots, if you’re not, you may want to return after you’ve finished..

It seems a little baffling that book five of a series can actually just be a warm up, a pre-cursor to something bigger, but that’s exactly what this seems to be, either that or Martin is having so much fun that he genuinely has no idea where he is going with this, or for how long, although I will reveal that in the epilogue to this, in which Varys makes a welcome tittering return, winter has finally arrived.

But I’m starting at the finish, what kind of crazy scheme is this? Well not quite as crazy as young Jon Snow, who lets as many Wildlings as he can through the wall, which obviously goes down well with everyone, taking a loan out from the Iron Bank of Braavos to help him do so. Despite patiently explaining why he needs to do this (They’ll freeze and die and turn into Others you see) to his unhappy inferiors (who would, in fact, all be Daily Mail readers were they were alive today, or, in fact, actually real people), he is bitterly and violently betrayed at the end. Oh, I’m back at the end again.

How about this then, Cersei repents! it seems anyway, she confesses to everything she can think of, hoping this will allow her to be scourged and purified, so she can go and do it all again I expect. After being sent naked through the streets of Kings Landing she seems a meek thing, but I don’t trust her for one second, oh no.

Across the sea Danaerys, whose name I seem to spell differently every time I type it, marries Hizdahr zo Loraq after he gives her 99 days of peace and at the same time they sign a peace treaty with the Yunkish. At the opening of the fighting pits (there’s a wedding gift you don’t often see on the list) Drogon returns to grab a bit of boar meat. Danaery’s jumps on his back and is whisked away / burnt to a cinder / falls to her death, delete as appropriate depending on who you are talking to. This leaves poor old Barristan the bold and the Shavepate to play the game of thrones as Hizdahr sits weakly on high. Not only that but Quentyn Martell revealed himself and the young dragon queen showed an epic lack of interest, women eh. He decides to prove himself by showing that he has dragon blood in him. It would seem that having dragon blood is not quite as good as wearing something extremely inflammable that covers every inch of your body.

Young Arya is still learning in the house of black and white, she regains her sight eventually, still denying her true self but I’m sure she’ll come round eventually, in the meantime she is given a removable face, it’s all a bit weird.

Finally across the sea, Tyrion, Penny and Mormont are sold to a Yunkish trader who then donates them to the celebrations celebrating the peace with the dragon queen, who saves their lives. Their Yunkish trader then catches the flux, so Tyrion escapes and signs the three of them up to the Second Sons, who Brown Ben Plumm took across to the Yunkish for more money.

Back up to the north, Reek is accused of murdering men in Winterfell as Roose and Ramsay await the coming of Stannis, and they don’t have to wait long, horns are blowing outside the walls, Stannis has found his snow shoes! Apparently. Because Reek then becomes Theon, rescuing the Arya Stark (not the real one obviously, and he knows it, and probably so does everyone else) from Ramsay Bolton and jumping from Winterfell where he is eventually reunited with his sister, who is a ‘guest’ of King Stannis. Stannis himself has been stuck on his way to Winterfell in some snow, Winter seems to have arrived sooner up in the north.

Young Prince Aegon meanwhile has landed and is giving Kevan Lannister (the new regent since Cersei’s downfall) a headache. But luckily for Kevan it won’t be for long, or unluckily, if you’re Kevan.

Finally, Jaime ends the siege at Raventree before bumping into Brienne, who was killed in a previous book, and who apparently has found Arya Stark (the third one by my count), we hear through others that he has gone running off on a mission.

So there you have it. Westeros is in a complete mess, and winter has arrived.

“…A septa has instructed him in the mysteries of the Faith since he was old enough to understand them. He has lived with fisherfolk, worked with his hands, swum in rivers and mended nets and learned to wash his own clothes at need. He can fish and cook and bind up a wound, he knows what it is like to be hungry, to be hunted, to be afraid. Tommen has been taught that kingship is his right. Aegon knows that kingship is his duty, that a king must put his people first, and live and rule for them.”

A Dance with Dragons 1: Dreams and Dust – George R.R. Martin

Outside, the night was white as death; pale thin clouds danced attendance on a silver moon, while a thousand stars watched coldly. He could see the humped shapes of other huts buried beneath drifts of snow, and beyond them the pale shadow of a weirwood armored in ice. To the south and west the hills were a vast white wilderness where nothing moved except the blowing snow. “Thistle,” Varamyr called feebly, wondering how far she could have gone.
“Thistle. Woman. Where are you?”
Far away, a wolf gave howl.

It was about half way through A Feast For Crows that I realised Tyrion seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth, and Jon, and Daenerys but I needn’t have worried, Martin didn’t forget about them, he just didn’t have room.
So we kick off here, Tyrion is being put up by Illyrio Mopatis, the same Illyrio who took in Viserys and Daenerys back in book one (remember that one?), he seems a very charitable chap. Soon though Illyrio sends him on his way, meeting up with none other than a young Prince Aegon! Who has appeared out of absolutely nowhere. However he’s not with Aegon long before he’s bundled off by none other than Jorah Mormont, who intends to take him to the Queen. They are joined on their trip by Penny, whose antics on the back of a dog Tyrion remembers from Joffrey’s wedding.

Back at the wall, Jon Man’s up, holds his ground against the niggardly old Stannis and executes Janos Slynt (bravo!). He’s determined to hold the wall for the extremely slow in coming winter, as well as keep an eye on his back for the Wildlings who have been allowed to settle on The Gift. Lucky for him Stannis’s Lady in Red is hanging around to help him, as is Mance Ryder. Yep, Mance, who Stannis ordered burned alive is in fact, still alive, and not burnt, but disguised cleverly as Rattleshirt.

Across Slavers bay Daenerys is having problems of her own. She’s horny, she’s had to lock up her dragons (well two of them, the other one cleared off) and her city is in the midst of a bloody guerilla war from rebellious subjects. Apparently she needs to take a husband, and not just for the her first problem, apparently this will also help with the second one as well. And, what do you know, she has two hopefuls on their way! The aforementioned Prince Aegon, who luckily doesn’t have to worry about being related to her because that’s all good if you have dragon blood. But he’s not the only one, Quentyn Martell, the Dornish prince betrothed in secret by others to Daenerys, only he ends up marching to her in an army that is against her. A lack of planning is what that is. Let’s see how it goes, they could both be in luck, the dragon has three heads.

Bran meanwhile is still with Cold Hands and his Elk, until the Elk collapses with cold but he does finally meet the Three Eyed Crow who promises to teach him how to fly, which seemingly involves being underground having a tree grow through you.

We are introduced to Reek, who in fact we have met before, he is now a pet of Ramsay Bolton and helps deliver Moat Cailin from the Iron Men, his own people, before giving away Arya in marriage to Ramsay.
Davos, the Hand without a full hand, fares even less well, when his work as an Envoy ends up costing him his life. The blunt and honest ex smuggler was one of the few genuinely good characters in the book, it makes sense that he had to be killed off at some point, see Ned Stark. But wait, no it doesn’t! Wyman Manderly knows that Bran and Rickon are still alive! He knows where they have gone and wants Davos to find them, I expect we’ll see Davos again in book forty one.

At the end Tyrion’s ship is rescued by a slaver, we can hazard a guess at what happens there, but then again Martin is not one for a straightforward plot line. The series is now an epic, vast in terms of the world it inhabits, with a spaghetti jumble of plot lines and intrigues that Martin weaves with an adept skill. Just when you think he has forgotten about something that started a few books ago, it reappears. When I started I thought the whole series had finished, it’s only as I’ve been reading and paying more attention to it that I realised it’s no where near finished, so I should probably take my time with the last one, while I wait for book six.

“Three corns and one roast raven,” said Dolorous Ed. “Very good, m’lord, only Hobb’s made boiled eggs, black sausage, and apples stewed with prunes. The apples stewed with prunes are excellent, except for the prunes. I won’t eat Prunes myself. Well, there was one time when Hobb chopped them up with chestnuts and carrots and hid them in a hen. Never trust a cook, my lord. They’ll prune you when you least expect it.”