Hikikomori and the Rental Sister

  • by Jeff Backhaus
  • Narrated by Stephen Bowlby
  • 6 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Thomas Tessler, devastated by a tragedy, has cloistered himself in his bedroom and shut out the world for the past three years. His wife, Silke, lives in the next room, but Thomas no longer shares his life with her, leaving his hideout only in the wee hours of the night to buy food at the store around the corner from their Manhattan apartment. Isolated, withdrawn, damaged, Thomas is hikikomori.
Desperate to salvage their life together, Silke hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman attuned to the hikikomori phenomenon, to lure Thomas back into the world. In Japan Megumi is called a "rental sister", though her job may involve much more than familial comforts. As Thomas grows to trust Megumi, a deepening and sensual relationship unfolds. But what are the risks of such intimacy? And what must these three broken people surrender in order to find hope?
Revelatory and provocative, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister tears through the emotional walls of grief and delves into the power of human connection to break through to the waiting world outside.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Paradoxical Challenge

A debut novel that deserves attention. It is a bold original concept, and the author's writing style, with the essence of a haiku--sparse, beautiful, conflicting, has moments of poetic magic. The story is quick-paced, almost urgent, and immediately draws in the reader. Backhaus takes control of the emotional thermostat by creating an immediately intense storyline that challenges our iron constructs of love, relationships, forgiveness--and forces the reader to look beyond their comfort zones. There is an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loneliness that permeates the story--even in the sounds--Silke's (the wife) heels click across the wood floor and echo through the house, Thomas's (the husband) voice is muffled behind the bolted door where he has been cloistered for 3 yrs., the conversations are statements that no longer get or expect responses.

hikikomori: (Japanese) the act or state of severe social withdrawl; predominantly by males
Rental Sister: an outreach counselor hired to draw out those suffering with hikikomori

The characters are intriguing, striped bare by the years of overwhelming loneliness and grief, they are almost transparent and feel fragile and exposed. Megumi (the rental sister) is a fascinating creature; gentle, graceful, and childlike, her movements are like a dance choreographed to lure Thomas out of his soulful retreat. Backhaus orchestrates such an intimate connection to these characters that the reader becomes emotional engaged--when Silke hires the rental sister, with the desperate hope for an unconventional *cure* for Thomas, we want to disregard what we know of life, and grasp that last hope for her. It is almost painful to read about the process. As the relationship between Thomas and Silke develops the story switches from a psychological drama to more of an errotic psych. drama. When the two step outside the parameters of what is accepted as therapeutic (to say the least), the story became disturbing and uncomfortable. The hypnotic spell Backhaus had created broke, and I suddenly felt like I was being manipulated. I couldn't go with Backhaus on the stretch to accepting this--uh--sexual healing; it turned into a menage a trois of sorts. Megumi's innocence turned exotic and sensual--she became like a roll playing naughty geisha. Thomas was less a poor wretched soul, and more a self-indulgent, narcissistic opportunist. His actions disrespected the union that produced the son he grieved for; he took gross advantage of both his wife's devotion and compassion, and to some degree, the already damaged Megumi. Thomas was more in need of some good Gestalt therapy than Call-Girl therapy. His *condition* finally seemed more a personal *style*, that greedily consummed everyone he was involved with, and I saw no possibility for any redeeming value coming out of this black hole.

There is an audience that will really appreciate this book because it IS provocative, well written, and original, but I could not give more than 3 stars in the end. I liked most of it very much, and Bowlby did a good job tackling a female voice with a Japanese/Korean accent with his narration.

It definitely will make the reader think: I think this was a good read but the logic flawed, and the manipulation heavy-handed.......I think it would make a lovely Japanese soft-porn film.....I think most women that read this book will be dreaming of a good strong hammer and a big bag of nails...

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- Mel


Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, its a one of a kind book that should be listened to by everyone.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Silke, Mugumi and Toe masss. They all brought human elements to the story that are rarely discussed or thought about but bleneded together very well.

What about Stephen Bowlby’s performance did you like?

Sometimes he nailed the Japanese/American accent (sometimes not)

If you could take any character from Hikikomori and the Rental Sister out to dinner, who would it be and why?

That would have to be Silke, I would love to understand her more.

Any additional comments?

This is not an action packed thriller, its a book that you need to listen to closely, with plenty of time to contemplate its meaning. Dont let that scare you, If i had heard someone say that about a book I may not have picked it up, but this is a one of a kind book that really grabbed me and you should not miss it.

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- Mark

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-08-2013
  • Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books