Hotel Iris is the story of Mari, a 17-year-old woman who works for her tyrannical mother in a run down hotel by the sea.
She meets an older man, a translator of Russian novels, who lives on an island and is rumoured to have murdered his wife. They start a relationship based on dominance and sado-masochistic violence yet they love each other.
“It occurred to me that I had never heard such a beautiful voice giving an order,” Mari thinks. “It was calm and imposing, with no hint of indecision. Even the word ‘whore’ was somehow appealing.”
Hotel Iris is reluctantly compelling. Ogawa is skilled at writing beautifully even about ugly, violent things and is a master at creating mood. The story is outside of time and using spare strokes and ingenious, often macabre detail, Ogawa creates a dreamlike narrative that, challenges our sense of security.
There is a profound unease in this study of dependency with Mari ruled by an uncaring, tyrannical mother at home, and a domineering, sadistic lover in secret. Mari trades one form of servitude for another. She is a wisp of a girl, seeking her true self through pain and her lack of self awareness is both what draws the reader in and holds us strangely at arm’s length.
The book is as cool as the ocean breeze by the Hotel Iris, giving up no easy answers for why these characters do what they do. In brittle prose from Ogawa and translator Stephen Snyder, the story becomes a loose study of psychological and sexual dependency that is both tender and ugly at the same time.
It is a story set in a beautiful yet and disturbing world all of its own.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!