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In Japan, true feelings (known as honne) are often hidden behind the mask of a false front (tatemae). So the comic potential of a mind-reading maid working in private family homes — encountering sexual frustrations, jealousy and the mutual resentment of parents and their children — sounds rich indeed.

Yasutaka Tsutsui’s picaresque 1972 novel, “The Maid,” offers a social panorama of Japan in the early ’70s, but many of the stock characters still ring true today: philandering salarymen; obsessive, conceited academics; and self-indulgent, vaguely absurd artists. More dated is the virginal, bland female protagonist who is cast adrift in a sea of male chauvinism. She constantly finds herself threatened with rape from her employers and must to turn her telepathic powers against them in order to escape.

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