Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa
Description from book flap:
In a crumbling seaside hotel on the coast of Japan, quiet seventeen-year-old Mari works the front desk as her mother tends to the off-season customers. When one night they are forced to expel a middle-aged man and a prostitute from their room, Mari finds herself drawn to the man's voice, in what will become the first gesture of a single long seduction. In spite of her provincial surroundings, and her cool but controlling mother, Mari is a sophisticated observer of human desire, and she sees in this man something she has long been looking for.
The man is a proud if threadbare translator living on an island off the coast. A widower, there are whispers around town that he may have murdered his wife. Mari begins to visit him on his island, and he soon initiates her into a dark realm of both pain and pleasure, a place in which she finds herself more at ease even than the translator. As Mari's mother begins to close in on the affair, Mari's sense of what is suitable and what is desirable are recklessly engaged.
Wow. Ogawa has written another haunting novel. I'm not sure what to write about this book, because truthfully there were times that I was rather shocked at the deplorable and violent manner in which Mari was treated by her companion, the translator. Her first foray into an intimate relationship consisted of being tied up, hung by the ceiling, photographed, physically and verbally abused - all of which Mari craved and enjoyed. So, why did I cringe whilst reading about this S&M relationship? Because Mari is seventeen and has never experienced unconditional love from anyone (except her father, who was an alcoholic that died rather suddenly in Mari's young life). She believes she is ugly and undeserving of happiness and views her relationship with the translator as a means of escape from her stagnant life at the hotel; where her mother roughly brushes her hair every morning and constantly berates her for merely existing. With no friends to talk with or hang out, Mari relishes the freedom she feels when she is with the translator. And this translator takes advantage of Mari's naivete. He engages this young lady by playing on her loneliness and desperation. At first, he seems rather odd, but quiet and soft spoken. There is a walk around town and a wave goodbye, which leads to a letter that implores Mari to please meet him again. Once they are on his island and in his house, the atmosphere shifts and the translator is no longer kind - instead he becomes forceful and authoritative with regards to what he expects from Mari. Its interesting to watch this relationship progress throughout the book and the ways in which Mari's demeanor changes, along with her feelings about her body and self. I think that the introduction of the translator's nephew was an easy way to begin the ending of Mari's relationship with the translator. Of course, the ending is not what I expected. I won't spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say that the translator turns out to be just as ugly a person as I had figured out earlier. As for Mari, I'm not sure what I feel towards her, except disappointment and pity. In the end, these characters definitely captured my attention as did their story. Ogawa is able to describe a scene so vividly that you can clearly picture Mari's thrill at deceiving her mother or the excitement she felt while reading the translator's letters tucked away behind the front desk when no one was looking. The writing is solid and the tone is perfect at capturing the unpredictable shift of events throughout the novel. I would definitely recommend this book to Ogawa fans.
Happy reading to all! I'm off to finish reading Jean Rhys', Let Them Call It Jazz.
By the by, this read counts towards two of my reading challenges: Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 4 and CL's The Summer Reading Challenge 2010 - (Click on the links to find out more about each challenge, if you are interested in joining in on the reading fun). Bazinga for me!