March 30, 2023

Hotel Iris: A Novel

Picador Paperback Original

April 5, 2010, $14.00

Author: Yoko Ogawa

Translated by Stephen Snyder

A tale of twisted love from Yoko Ogawa, author of The Diving Pool and The Housekeeper and the Professor; this latest stirring novel, Hotel Iris, reveals the sometimes violent ways in which we express intimacy and about the untranslatable essence of love.

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.

Since 1988 Ogawa has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction and has won every major Japanese literary award. In Ogawa’s dark collection of novellas, The Diving Pool, and her popular novel of family and math, The Housekeeper and the Professor, she casts two very different enchantments-exploring unspeakable cruelty in one, and fathomless compassion in the other. Her fiction is eerily attuned to both our darkest and most generous impulses, and her characters, whether gentle or violently perverse, are always rendered with great empathic detail.

Hotel Iris is definitely a dark Ogawa-a story of love, sex, and power in the discomfiting and brilliantly subversive vein of Natsuo Karino and Mary Gaitskill-and it is her finest novel yet.

Stephen Snyder teaches Japanese literature at Middlebury College. His translations include works by Kenzaburb Oe, Ryu Murakami, Natsuo Kirino, and Miri Yu.

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