Yasutaka Tsutsui (1934, Osaka) is considered one of the leading writers of science fiction in the Japanese language. He has received numerous awards and has several well regarded novels including Hell and Paprika.
Not too surprisingly, The Maid, set in contemporary Japan, is about a maid. What is special about this maid is that she can read minds. Based on these two novels, Tsutsui seems to develop one concept and work it in various situations. The maid is only 18 when we first meet her and the story is told by her in the first person. Nanase has always been able to read minds, she does not even think it is an unusual ability. The fun in this novel is seeing into the lives of the people who she works for as she moves from job to job. Through her perceptions, we see below the masks of civility worn in contemporary Japan into the darker recesses of the lives her employers. We see children with contempt for their parents, wives and husbands planning affairs and we listen in as one of her male employers wonders whether he could get away with raping her. Most of the time people are thinking about sex, their standing in the world and brooding about how bad their lives are. None of the employers comes off very well.
She works for a total of eight families, each one with their own chapter. I thought the most interesting parts of the book were in her first encounters with the members of the families when she was sort of sizing them up. She works for all sort of people, from professors to artists to retired businessmen but it is the women who run the families in most cases. She is attractive and that causes her problems. Some of the employers try to be nice and some do not even acknowledge she is a person but over all the employers come off looking bad. The Maid never seems to find any good or morally sound thoughts in anyone or any family or marital love. There is a sort of a feel to this book of "OK let us expose how evil people really are". I enjoyed reading about the different families and the concept was interesting.
In the interests of full disclosure I was provided a free copy of the is book. The publisher, Alma Books, has a very interesting and quite diversified catalog.
This is my forth year to participate in Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge. There are lots of great reading suggestions on her web page and among the many reviews that will be done by participants.
The next Japanese novel I will read is Okei by Mitsugu Saotome, set in late 19th century Japan among warring clans of Samurais.