Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

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Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: A dark, sadistic and disturbing story, yet it's very well written so if you've got enough nerve then it's worth a try.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099548997

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When I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ogawa I fell completely in love with the book. It was gentle, and beautifully written. Hotel Iris is very, very different and really ought to have a warning label on the cover for those who simply recognise the author's name and pick it up hoping for more! This is the story of a seventeen year old girl who is seduced by an old man in a sadistic, distressing manner.

Mari first encounters The Translator (we never learn his name) at her family's hotel. There is a rumpus in one of the rooms where an elderly gentleman (The Translator) has a prostitute and both of them are ejected from the hotel. Mari is bewitched by his voice and finds herself compelled to try to find out more about him until she ends up tangled in a strange relationship that's part love affair, part rape.

The writing is still quite delicate, with a haunting elegance to it that I liked. She writes We stared out at the sea in silence, more at ease with each other than before - as if the silence had become a soft veil covering the two of us. The waves crashed at our feet. Shorebirds cried out in the distance. Beneath the veil, the sounds were wonderfully clear and distinct, even the quiet rasping of the translator's breath. There's something quite clean about her style of writing, yet it becomes unsettling as you realise the nature of the relationship between Mari and The Translator and how disturbing and violent it is.

This begin to reach a climax when The Translator's nephew arrives. He is mute, and writes his conversations down on notepaper hung around his neck. Mari later discovers that he has no tongue and, once again, she is drawn to him and their sexual encounter together marks the beginning of the end for her and The Translator. There is no happy ending here, and the book left me feeling quite raw and unsettled.

I suppose the story provides an interesting study of obsession, and submission. I felt, however, that it was never clear why Mari becomes so obsessed with this old man. She is already psychologically affected by her mother, and by the death of her father, but still I just couldn't grasp what she was doing with him. The sexual scenes are occasionally graphic, they were also disturbing enough to make me feel uncomfortable and I found I read the book very quickly, so as to get to the end as soon as possible.

Read it with caution since it may disturb or offend some readers. And don't let it put you off reading her other novel, which is truly a beautiful book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Although Hotel Iris comes with a caution, another of Yoko Ogawa's short novels is highly recommended and really should not be missed.

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