Hotel Iris

Yoko Ogawa

First Sentence:   He first came to the Iris one day just before the beginning of the summer season.

A delicate little novel this centering on Mari, a seventeen-year old girl who works at the front desk in the family run Hotel Iris. One night there is a disturbance in one of the rooms between a prostitute and a mysterious man. It is this man’s voice that initially draws Mari in to what will become a somewhat shocking relationship. This book is endlessly readable, full of clean prose, but at its heart is a very dark tale. It is this darkness that I found a little off-putting, but that is not to say this is a bad book. I just preferred the innocence of the other Ogawa book I read (The Housekeeper + The Professor). There is still much to enjoy here, and aside from the rather dubious love shared by Mari and the translator, I can see plenty to admire. It is at times a disturbing, and yet consistently charming read.

* * *

Last Sentence: All they found were endless rolls of film filled with pictures of me.

Last Sentence explained: As Mari gets to know the translator they embark on a sexual adventure verging on the abusive. What starts off relatively mildly ends up with Mari being whipped, beaten and humiliated willingly during sex. It is no real surprise as it is the darkness she sees in him that she first finds attractive. There are rumours that he killed his wife but Mari later learns from the translator’s nephew that she was killed when her scarf was caught in a train door. She was dragged along until she hit a pillar and her skull was crushed. Mari ends up sleeping with the translator’s nephew who communicates by writing on scraps of paper as he has no tongue. When the translator learns of this infidelity he spends hours beating her in his home on a nearby island and cuts off all her hair. As she is gone all night the police are called in and on their return to the mainland the next day, the police are waiting in the port for them. Rather than being arrested, the translator jumps overboard and his bloated body is found three days later. Mari asks the police to find the novel he had been translating but all they found were the pictures of her.

Random quote about checking for mail:

“It seemed a shame to end the pleasure of anticipation too quickly – or perhaps I was afraid there would be no letter that day.”

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