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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Jeff Backhaus

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Member:hfineisen
Title:Hikikomori and the Rental Sister: A Novel
Authors:Jeff Backhaus
Info:Algonquin Books (2013), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Currently reading
Rating:****
Tags:None

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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister: A Novel by Jeff Backhaus

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is an Early Reviewer book that I should have read a long time ago. Not only because it's an ER book that needs reviewing, but because I ended up really enjoying it.

In a style mimicking Haruki Murakami's, Backhaus presents us with the story of Thomas, a man who has shut himself in his room, away from his wife, due to a tragic accident involving his son. After three years of not seeing her husband, his wife decides to hire Megumi as a rental sister. In her role, Megumi is to find a way to coax him out of his guilt-ridden world.

I had requested this book because of it's involvement with the Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori and was interested to see a non-Japanese person's take on the subject. And I was very pleased. The writing as simple as it get; not getting involved in descriptions; not worrying about smooth transitions in time; not trying to write verbose passages on what should be bare moments. I found myself enjoying all the characters and really believing that this could all truly happen.

Truly happy to have read this. ( )
2 vote lilisin | Apr 1, 2014 |
It was a hard book to get into, but once I got into the book it was very interesting. The story seems far fetched and at times the author hits you over the head with his theories. And yet it was so bizarre and encaptivating I really wanted to know what happened next. ( )
  KamGeb | Jan 29, 2014 |
Reminded me of the style of Murakami. Bit too melancholy for my needs right now.
  bookczuk | Jun 26, 2013 |
Hikikomori and the Rental Sister paints a graceful portrait of individuals traumatized by grief and unhinged by guilt. Thomas Tessler was happy with his life until the death of his young son three years ago. Needing just one day to be alone with his grief turns into three years of living within himself behind the dead bolt of his room. Thomas is “hikikomori” – a Japanese phenomenon of complete social withdrawal by turning inwardly and isolating one’s self. Silke, Thomas’ wife, has been patiently waiting for Thomas to come out of his funk and will try one last attempt to salvage their relationship – the hiring of a “rental sister”, Megumi, to draw Thomas back to reality by any means necessary. Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant, is running from her own grief and guilt is not sure how much of a help she will be but will give it a try. But a desperate act by one causes a crisis propels the others to decision that was looming all along.
I will admit that Megumi’s story was the most engrossing and heartfelt for me. Her voice was rich, and poetic yet edgy. It was Megumi who had to bare soul for a job she did not want to do – but “the heart’s sorest spot is also its softest.”This debut novel is best enjoyed if you turn off your reality antennae and delve into the hauntingly intimate look at individuals stymied by innocent guilt. Rich characterization, quiet yet elegant phrasing showcases the author’s writing of an American story with Japanese sensibilities.

This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes
1 vote bookmuse56 | Jun 22, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
According to the back cover, "hikikomori" is a Japanese word for pulling inward; it refers to those who withdraw from society. Thomas has done just that after the death of his son. He lives within the four walls of the master bedroom of his apartment, leaving only once a week in the middle of the night to buy groceries at a nearby convenience store. He has not seen his wife in three years, though she continues to live in the apartment and tries to engage him and convince him to emerge from his self-imposed cell.

Megumi is a young Japanese immigrant whose brother was a "hikikomori" in Japan. She is hired by Thomas' wife to try to help Thomas. Megumi is living a destructive, shallow life, trying to out run her past. These two empty people are brought together and the relationship they develop and the healing they bring forth in each other is at the center of this novel.

"That heavy thing, whatever it is, has gravity. It's drawing her in, closer. She feels the pull. She has been alone for so long, surrounded by people who are empty inside. It's what she thought she wanted, to float, untethered, to forget. But heavy things - even buried deep - tend to find each other. Silence attracts silence." (page 80)

I have incredibly mixed feelings about this book. The premise is interesting and the writing is sharp and bright in many places. My problems with it stem from the fact that it is occasionally over-written, and that all the characters are essentially self-absorbed and unsympathetic. I didn't see all that much development in any of them, and while the relationship between Thomas and Megumi is fairly well-drawn, the relationship between Thomas and his wife remains thin, which caused the ending to strike a discordant note with me.
1 vote katiekrug | Jun 1, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Backhaus writes beautifully; there’s no fault to be found with his prose. However, the story itself just doesn’t hold together; it’s too close to realism to be magical and so readers may struggle to suspend disbelief. The concept itself—and the question as to why the U.S. hasn’t experienced the sort of “hikikomori" phenomena, although perhaps the current crop of basement-dwelling, Cheetos-eating, underemployed young men constitute our version of it—is one that would be worth exploring in a novel.
added by KelMunger | editLit/Rant, Kel Munger (Jul 24, 2013)
 
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Estranged from the husband who cloistered himself in his bedroom three years earlier after a devastating tragedy, Silke hires a young Japanese woman to draw him back into the world by establishing a deeply intimate relationship with him.

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