Tuesday, June 22, 2010

79 - Hotel Iris; Yoko Ogawa



















Hotel Iris; Yoko Ogawa

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".

OR....

"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
(Library Book)

BTW - If you have not already read The Housekeeper and the Professor, add it to your list --excellent.

20 comments:

  1. I share the same thoughts.
    And I need to read The Housekeeper and the Professor since I've heard nothing but raves about that book!

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  2. I am glad you liked this book-I have it on the way to me-upon completion I will read your excellent post again and link to it

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  3. Wow, the Housekeeper and the Professor is on my wish list, but this one seems seriously full on. In a good way. Despite the bad things in it. If that makes sense. I will definitely try to read it.

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  4. I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of the Housekeeper book...this one sounds very interesting!

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  5. I'm waiting for this to come free at the library ever since hearing an excellent review of it on NPR. Glad to see its goodness confirmed.

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  6. Thanks for this review!

    Bill ;-)

    http://drbillsbookbazaar.blogspot.com/2010/06/help-settle-bet-ok.html
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

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  7. This does sound like a page turner. Great review, Diane.

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  8. I'm attracted to books like that and wonder why as I read them! This sounds really good.

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  9. Sounds excellent, and I already have The Housekeeper and the Professor on my list, too. Love your new look!

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  10. This does sound a little disturbing, but also very interesting. I am glad you liked it and am going to have to try this one for myself. I loved his first book, and think he has a gift with story and language, so this should also be a great read. Thanks for sharing this review!

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  11. This book sounds wonderful! I still haven't read The Housekeeper and the Professor, but this author is now much higher on my radar. Thanks!

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  12. Hmm. I loved Housekeeper, but I'm not sure about this one.

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  13. I love books about hotels. I think it is all those years working in the hotel and catering industry. Shall add it to my list.

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  14. Wow... what beautiful writing. It's sort of schocking to my senses to read such beautiful words, knowing full well that there is violence attached to them.

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  15. I like how you liken this to a car accident .. I know just what you mean.

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  16. I just finished this book and love her writing. I enjoyed The Housekeeper and the Professor even more and look forward to reading her other work. Good review, you gave us a sense of the unsettling nature of the story but without being judgmental. I like that.

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  17. I loved The Housekeeper and The Professor; so glad to know that I'm going to enjoy another book by Ogawa.

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  18. This one sounds amazing! I just heard about it some time back, so I'm glad to see your review. I'll be adding both books to my TBR.

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  19. I love those train-wreck kind of books. I'll keep this one in mind.

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