Book Review: Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

I have loved the writing of Yoko Ogawa from the minute I read the first paragraph of the extremely compassionate and benevolent book, The Housekeeper + The Professor. Hence, I picked up Hotel Iris without even bothering to read the blurb. Not that I was disappointed, but I was definitely shocked! Happily so.

Coming from a gentle storyteller that as I knew her to be, Hotel Iris only goes to prove her mettle as a writer and psychologist. Hotel Iris is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl, Mari, who lives in a tourist town by the sea and works with her mother in ramshackled family inn. Bored with her mundane life with her dominating mother and a kleptomaniac maid, she has retreated into her lonely shell. One evening, she finds herself hypnotized by the commanding voice of a man, old enough to be her grandfather, who is ejected out of the hotel after a meltdown with a prostitute. She soon befriends the extremely coy old man, and hence starts their unconventional relationship full of oddly sweet letters and waiting, followed by extremely outlandish sex, where the old man suddenly drops his shy cloak and turns into a monster.

The beauty of the book is its subtext. One finds how Mari is secretly revolting against her authoritative mother and her rituals by getting away and doing something that she knows to be illicit. She takes joy in the brutality inflicted upon her during the moments of lust; it is clear from the moments shared from her childhood that her only source of pleasure is the forbidden. But all of this is up to the reader to decipher, so it maybe just my thought.

In her true style, she answers nothing. Neither the apparent mysteries of the story, nor the main question raised by the story on preferring a life with a sadist old man over the monotony of the daily life. Melancholic the way only a Japanese novel can be, it is a brilliant read with extreme emotions expressed in the simplest of words.

Of course, there is a lot to be said about the translator of the novel as well.


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