The Maid is the fourth book from Yasutaka Tsutsui published by Alama Books, translated by Adam Kabat, previous books include Salmonella Men from Planet Porno, (short stories), Paprika, adapted into an anime by Satoshi Kon, and also the novel entitled 'Hell' where the characters find themselves in hell and contemplate how and why they are there. Yasutaka Tsustui's prose has a great ability to pull the fantastical and bring it up so close to reality that the border between the two becomes blurred. The Maid follows in this vein, Nanase a young maid who has the ability to read people's minds, she can't recall the exact time when she first realized she had this telepathic power, she thought that maybe other people have this ability too but they kept it to themselves, she sees her ability as having an extra sense, made up with a 'latch' that she can turn to stop hearing other's thoughts. The book follows her through her time working with eight different families. The first family, the Ogata's appear as a slightly wayward family, but as Nanase begins to listen in to each members thoughts, things become increasingly strange. As she moves from job to job, what constitutes as the 'surface morality' that so much of human interaction and communication takes for granted begins to vanish. Through Nanase we get to peer into the unspoken consciousness of her employers, and it presents quite a bleak picture. A middle aged wife cheating on her husband, pursuing her youth in a flashy sports car to meet her young lover, events take a turn for the worse as desire and desperation spiral out of control. Nanase finds the wife staring at her thinking, 'I want her skin. I want her youth. I want her inexperience, her vulnerability. I want her healthy stupidity'.Nanase is at pains to hide her gift from others but working for one family, who's father is forced into early retirement, who spends most of his time lusting after his young daughter in-law, his attentions soon turn to Nanase and she's forced into revealing her psychic power in act of self defence.
Working at the Takemura household, a family clinging to their middle class pretensions, Tenshu, the father is an artist, although he only paints part time on Sundays he's constantly harangued by his wife and son to paint a mural for the local ward office, a lucrative proposition, although Tenshu is an abstract painter and can't paint what they want. As Nanase looks into his thoughts she sees that he thinks only in abstractions, in his mind he reduces his nagging family to shapes and colours, and remains obstinately silent, infuriating his wife to hysterical proportions. Nanase looks into the thoughts of Teshu's son, Katsuki, and observes him graphically beating his father to death whilst calmly eating two bowls of ochazuke. For a while it seems that Nanase has found a redeeming character in this artist, who at first appearance looks like an innocent, but as she investigates further, it doesn't take long to discover that he too has a darker side hidden from his family.
Many of Tsutsui's books have been adapted into films and anime, another famous adaption being The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, The Maid originally published in 1972 in Japan as Kazoku Hakkei as part of a trilogy featuring Nanase, other parts of which have been dramatized for television and a forthcoming movie. Tsutsui's novels manage to dip in and out of many genres, effortlessly mixing, sci-fi, humour and a dark satire.