Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

“It occurred to me that I was crying because I wanted to see the translator. I wanted to feel the warmth of his skin, see the shy smile that lit up his face when he caught sight of me in the crowd. I wanted to repeat our secret ceremony at his home on the island. Though I knew I would see him the next day, that was somehow no comfort as I cried behind the desk. I wanted to see him that instant, and the feeling made me terribly sad.” (p. 73)

My relationship with Hotel Iris began a year ago when it was first released in English. I was promised an early edition by one of the agents in the publishing house, but it never appeared. Saddened, I determined to wait until I could order it myself.

Then, Mark David of Absorbed in Words sent me his own copy from the Philippines. I have been saving it for a special time, and this is it: the last weekend of my Summer before I return to the classroom.

I love the way Japanese novels, the particularly outstanding ones, create a mood. Every detail is portrayed simply and elegantly, and I feel as if I’m living with the characters in their own setting. I feel as if I’m there, although I’ve never personally been to Japan.

“We were standing on the deck of the excursion boat, looking out at the sea. The crowd that had pressed against the railing until so recently was nowhere to be seen. A nurse from the sanitarium who had apparently been shopping in town was sleeping against the window in the cabin. The man who ran the coffee stand had left his post and was smoking a cigarette at the bow of the boat. The deck was empty except for a few groups of tourists out to escape the monotony of the town.” (p. 142)

But Hotel Iris is not about tourists, or excursion boats, or monotony.

It is about a seventeen year old girl, the daughter of the hotel’s proprietress, and her relationship with ‘the translator’. The translator, for that’s all we know him as, first sees her when a whore kicks him out of their room in the hotel. Mari knows she must have him give her orders such as she heard him give the old prostitute, and their union is inevitable.

Much like Nabokov’s Lolita, we are in turns pitying her and captivated by her story. Here is a man fifty years older than she, who subjects her to horrors beyond my imagination: ordering her to put his socks on his feet without using her hands (only her mouth); tying her to furniture with cords which bind her; being rough and cruel one minute, while telling her he loves her the next.

In this bizarre tale, Ogawa explores relationships between mother and daughter, uncle and nephew, and most intriguingly, lovers with strange and unmet needs.

Find other views here:
In Spring It Is The Dawn
Bibliophile By The Sea
Vishy’s Blog
Paperback Reader

17 thoughts on “Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

  1. Much as the subject matter horrifying, I think the reviews have been fairly positive so far. Maybe one of these days I'd pick it up when I'm in the mood for something rough! 😉 ps: Love the kitty tomato btw! I kept forgetting to leave a line.


  2. I've never heard of this author before. The story sounds like it will be difficult to read but will draw me in at the same time. I've never been to Japan yet either but am quite sure I will get there one day.


  3. I absolutely loathed and loved this book. I just find Ogawa's writing to be exceptional. I remember when I reviewed this book, I wanted to be clear about the violence within it, but also clear about the beauty in Ogawa's words. I think you have written quite a great review of the book, Bellezza. Cheers!


  4. There seems to be a trend in writing about horrifying/taboo subjects amongst Japanese female writers. Although I find them difficult to read, it does make you ponder the kind of society we live in. I've read a lot of reviews of Hotel Iris, but they all seem to be positive overall (not about the horrifying bits, but about the writing and story-telling). I think I'll try and read The Housekeeper and Professor first before trying this one.


  5. Thank you again for yoour commitment to Japanese literature. This is a great review. What is it about Japanese authors that they can create mood, write about the tough stuff, the taboo, and still engage us so well. I might need to put this on my list for next years challenge.


  6. Mee, when I think about all the horrifying reviews this received I find that I wasn't so horrified as I'd anticipated. Granted, it's not exactly a walk in the park, but it's not quite as awful as Lolita, either.Kathleen, if you've never read Ogawa you might want to start with The Housekeeper and The Professor first.Thanks for the good thoughts about the school year, Samantha! I'm looking forward to meeting the kids on Tuesday. That's the best part, working with the dear ones. NOT meetings!Nadia, I completely agree with you about the beauty of Ogawa's writing. It made the book still lovely.Jessica, it's short. You could probably read it in an afternoon, although one likes to take some time to enjoy Ogawa's writing.Chasing Bawa, starting with The Housekeeper would be good. I've also heard great things about The Diving Pool, which is three novellas.JoV, I'd always link back to you!ds, brutality IS awful. I can't see it in films, for sure, and I can barely read novels of war. This was agreed upon by the two of them though, so perhaps that made it a bit more manageable. Perhaps.Connolly, isn't it hard to connect things to our teenagers?!Tamara, thanks you your sweet support of my affection for this genre. It's wonderful to share in it with you, for all these Japanese literature challenges!


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