Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa begins when quiet seventeen-year-old Mari who works at the front desk of her mother's hotel witnesses a middle-aged man and a prostitute being expelled from Hotel Iris. Mari is drawn in by the man's voice and when she runs into the man in town she continues to be seduced by him. The man is a translator living on a small island of the coast, he is a widower who may have murdered his wife, and Mari begins to visit him she finds an escape from her controlling mother into a dark world of pain and pleasure.

Hotel Iris instantly draws the reader into Mari's quiet and controlled world, which is disrupted when the translator visits the hotel. From the moment she hears him speak, Mari says:
"I was confused and afraid, and yet somewhere deep inside I was praying that voice would someday give me an order, too."
As the relationship between Mari and the translator develops I admit that I found the book pretty shocking because although the beginning feels like a quiet novel it suddenly turned into graphic and violent interactions between Mari and the translator. When Mari thinks about the relationship she has with the translator who is several decades older, she says:
"But I wanted this body I worshiped to be ugly- only then could I taste my disgrace. Only when I was brutalized, reduced to a sack of flesh, could I know pure pleasure."
Throughout Hotel Iris Mari maintains a voice that is cool and detached, even as she describes her experiences with the translator. Ogawa's writing is smooth and sparse, and it is a testament to her skill that I was mostly able to appreciate a book even as it made me uncomfortable with Mari's desire to be shamed and abused. That said, it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Hotel Iris is a tortured complex story about a girl growing up and recognizing herself through humiliation. She is a girl who doesn't know what love really feels like, who believes she is ugly. Her mother insists on getting compliments about Mari from the guests and as well as obsessively brushing her hair, but this only makes things worse.
"If Mother is so intent on paying me compliments, it might be because she doesn’t really love me very much. In fact, the more she tells me how pretty I am, the uglier I feel. To be honest, I have never once thought of myself as pretty."
The ugliness Mari feels on the inside seems to correspond directly with the pleasure she feels when the translator degrades her. Even though Mari says this is what she wants and appears to enjoy it, I couldn't help but feel pity and sadness for her and repulsion towards the much older man who so willingly abuses her. Hotel Iris has definitely convinced me to pick up another book by Ogawa in the future, probably her most famous novel The Housekeeper and the Professor which has a much less shocking storyline. Ogawa's writing allows the reader to flow through the story smoothly without any clear plot although I was disappointed by the twist near the end which seemed an easy way of wrapping things up. Overall, Hotel Iris is odd and disturbing, but you can't help but be intrigued. 

Translated By: Stephen Snyder
Release Date: March 30th, 2010 (First Published in Japanese in 1996)
Pages: 164
: Publisher

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1 comment:

  1. I really liked Ogawa's The Housekeeper and the Professor, so when I came across Hotel Iris, I was excited. Once I read up on it a bit, though, I wasn't sure I'd be interested. It's like a completely different author came up with the premise or something.


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