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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Maids

by
Tanizaki Jun'ichirō


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Maids



Title: The Maids
Author: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō
Genre: Novel
Written: (1963) (Eng. 2017)
Length: 176 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Maids - US
The Maids - UK
The Maids - Canada
  • Japanese title: 台所太平記
  • Serialized in 1962, and then published in book from in 1963
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Michael P. Cronin

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Our Assessment:

B : slight, but has its charms

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 8/6/2017 Pico Iyer
Wall St. Journal . 12/5/2017 Chandrahas Choudhury


  From the Reviews:
  • "As languorous and spacious as Devils in Daylight is speedy and compulsive, itís nothing but a litany of the lovable quirks, rustic accents, and amours of a series of young women in the service of an older writer and his wife." - Pico Iyer, The New York Review of Books

  • "Loosely organized but written with Tanizakiís usual narrative brio and sly intimacy, The Maids is an homage to the work of the humble in making a house a home. (...) Tanizakiís great success is to make us see how it is not only the masters who mourn the passing of such a world, but also the old maids." - Chandrahas Choudhury, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Maids was first published in serialized form, and much of it feels more like a collection of scenes-from-a-life (or many lives) than anything resembling a fully developed novel. Set in the household(s) of the famous author Chikura Raikishi -- obviously a stand-in for Tanizaki himself (they are the same age and share what little biographical information is presented) --, the writer does figure in many of the accounts, but the focus of the novel is, as the title has it, very much on the maids.
       [The publicity copy and some of the reviews invoke Tanizaki's classic, The Makioka Sisters, suggesting The Maids is a sort of upstairs-downstairs complement to the novel, but this seems grossly misleading; they are two very different beasts. While both do begin at about the same time -- The Makioka Sisters in 1936, The Maids "around 1937" -- The Makioka Sisters only spans a few years, while The Maids continues two decades further, to the then-present-day (the early 1960s), and covers much more changing times -- as well as extending outwards much further, in the stories of the many maids that often reach beyond the one household.]
       The Chikura household is one that is generally bustling with maids -- more than they actually need, but they like having them around. Several of them are portrayed at some length in The Maids, sometimes for specific stories -- complicated romances (the maids are usually only in service for a few years, before getting married off), for example -- but more often the accounts are character-portraits, with Tanizaki particularly good with the more quirky personalities. There's a bit of a gossipy tone to some of this -- the saga of two maids who turn out (though this only becomes apparent after they've left the household) to be lesbians, in particular -- but in its focus on the everyday, and the very different backgrounds of the maids, it makes for an appealing overview of Japanese life over these decades.
       Some of this is plain weird, too, as the narrative skims along with only occasional deeper reflection, uncritically reporting, for example, a doctor's words of dubious wisdom when one of the maids starts having seizures:

Now, hereditary epilepsy is quite difficult to cure, but yours is acquired, so there's no cause for pessimism. If you continue taking your daily dose of an antispasmodic called phenytoin, then the seizures will become less and less severe, until they eventually cease. The very best treatment, however, is marriage. If you'll just get married, your recovery is guaranteed," so the specialist informed them.
       The maids are lively characters with a variety of quirks, and they're often very independent-minded and blunt. Some are clearly unfit for some of the responsibilities they are entrusted with -- including, in one terrible case, a puppy -- but often their idiosyncrasies are also quite amusing. Literal-minded obsessive Koma, for example, has all sorts of quirks -- and:
One day Mutsuko, suffering from nervous depression, said, "I just want to die !" Hearing that, Koma told her, "If you really wish to die, Miss, I can arrange it so you won't even notice when it happens." Mutsuko was a bit creeped out.
       The Maids is also a lament for bygone times. It begins with the observation that nowadays: "We no longer call the household help 'maids'", and in the last chapter it's mournfully noted that the time when maids were practically family -- staying in touch long after they were out of service, for example, and always maintaining a connection -- has also passed, while:
Today's girls stay for six months or a year, thinking it good training for married life, then they hear from home about a marriage prospect, and they're gone.
       Much of The Maids is more anecdotal than cohesive story, but these scenes and sights and mishaps are genially related, and quite nicely done. It's a minor, late-life (and looking-back) work, but a nice little book nonetheless.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 May 2017

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Links:

The Maids: Reviews: Other books by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (谷崎 潤一郎) lived 1886 to 1965.

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© 2017 the complete review

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