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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

TITLE: Hotel Iris 
AUTHOR: Yoko Ogawa 
NARRATOR: Stephen Snyder
PUBLICATION DATE: March 30, 2010 (first published 1996)
FORMAT: Softcover, 164 pages
GENRE: Fiction, Japanese Literature
ISBN: 9780312425241
A tale of twisted love from Yoko Ogawa—author of The Diving Pool and The Housekeeper and the Professor.

In a crumbling seaside hotel on the coast of Japan, quiet seventeen-year-old Mari works the front desk as her mother tends to the off-season customers.  When one night they are forced to expel a middle-aged man and a prostitute from their room, Mari finds herself drawn to the man's voice, in what will become the first gesture of a single long seduction. In spite of her provincial surroundings, and her cool but controlling mother, Mari is a sophisticated observer of human desire, and she sees in this man something she has long been looking for. The man is a proud if threadbare translator living on an island off the coast. A widower, there are whispers around town that he may have murdered his wife.  Mari begins to visit him on his island, and he soon initiates her into a dark realm of both pain and pleasure, a place in which she finds herself more at ease even than the translator. As Mari's mother begins to close in on the affair, Mari's sense of what is suitable and what is desirable are recklessly engaged.

Hotel Iris is a stirring novel about the sometimes violent ways in which we express intimacy and about the untranslatable essence of love.


This book was originally written in Japanese.

Mari is a 17 year-old girl who lives at Hotel Iris, which is owned and run by her mother. She often works as the hotel’s front desk clerk, and one evening she witnesses an altercation between one of the establishment’s elderly customers and his companion. The young woman runs screaming from the room declaring that the man is a pervert, and he commands her to, “Shut up, whore!” Mari is transfixed by the authority in his voice and secretly desires for him to speak to her that way.

You can see where this is going, right? Mari becomes a willing submissive slave to this man’s domination.

I really enjoy Japanese literature, but I had a bad feeling about this one early on. The fact that Mari is still legally underage screamed warning bells in my head that this was just so wrong, never mind the fact that she is also fifty years his junior which makes the coupling all the more unlikely. The man, known only as "the translator," is sadistic, and there is certainly nothing attractive about his sagging and wrinkled body. Yet, Mari is still drawn to him and delights in her utter degradation.

Hotel Iris is really dark and disturbing, and it was just too hardcore for me to find it enjoyable. Foreplay, for me, does not entail kicking, punching, whipping, or choking. The translator has no remorse, there is no redemption, and he is just a vile and depraved character who gets off on humiliating women (or young girls, in this case). 

I have to say, though, that Ogawa has a beautiful style of writing which is what kept me reading even though the content was troubling. 


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