Hotel Iris; Yoko Ogawa
(author of The Housekeeper and the Professor)
Seventeen year old Mari is narrator of the Hotel Iris. Her life is not the kind of life any girl her age, or anyone for that matter, would envy. A high school dropout, she lost her father to a violent death at the age of eight, and now she spends her days and nights working the front desk, among other duties, at the Hotel Iris which is owned by her mother. Mari is clearly not only a lonely girl, but an emotionally damaged one as well. Her father's death and the treatment she receives from her mother, who is who is constantly barking orders and criticizing her, have not helped her self esteem.
The hotel is a shabby seaside hotel, presumably in Japan. The only other hotel employee besides Mari and her mother is a kleptomaniac for a maid. The hotel is rarely busy off season, in fact oftentimes its only customers are prostitutes and their clients. One day while Mari is working the front desk a loud commotion and fight ensues in Room 202. A man in his 50's chases a woman, obviously a prostitute, out of the room. He yells, "Shut up whore" at the woman. When Mari hears his voice yelling at the woman, her reaction is, "when giving orders......his voice is beautiful". This, of course, is in contrast to the way her mother orders her around all the time.
When Mari later sees the mysterious man in town she decides to follow him, wanting to find out more about him. Once she meets him, she follows him to an isolated island cottage, there she finds out he is a Russian translator, and what follows is a sick sadomasochistic relationship.
The writing is gorgeous and it is easy to feel a sense of place.......
"The storm had broken over the island by the time we emerged from the pantry. Rain beat against the windows, the wind swirled and the surf washed deep into the cove. Waves crashed on the rocks below shooting deep white spray in the dark. The roar of the sea and the howling of the wind shook the whole island. The translator turned on the light in the room".
You can feel the some of the sick, painful moments as well.....
"He undressed me with great skill, movements no less elegant for all the violence. Indeed, the more he shamed me, the more refined he became---like a perfumer plucking the petals from a rose, a jeweler prying open an oyster for its pearl".
"For me, a superb penalty that would have never occurred to anyone else. He dragged me into the bathroom and cut off my hair".
MY THOUGHTS -- In some ways this book was like a horrible car crash you pass on the highway--you don't want to look, but you can't help yourself. I felt the same way about the book, I wanted to turn my head, but the beautiful writing just would not let me quit. The writing hooked me from the first page of the short (164 page) novel. Because the story is so short, I never felt I totally understood what was going on inside of Mari's head, and why she was so obsessed about continuing to see the unnamed translator; her obsession with him was unshakable. It is tough to read in parts, but in the end, I am very glad I read this novel. RECOMMENDED
RATING - 4.5/5 Stars
BTW - If you have not already read The Housekeeper and the Professor, add it to your list --excellent.