Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa

I had wanted to bring you thoughts on one of my book group choices, however as it has been postponed from this evening until everyone has finished it I thought I would hold fire and share when we have discussed. I don’t want anyone else from the group peaking at my thoughts in advance now do I? So instead I thought I would bring you something else… I first heard of the author of ‘Hotel Iris’, Yoko Ogawa, when her previous novel ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ became a huge, and wonderfully touching and unusual, hit novel with the blogosphere. I eventually read it and thought it was incredible, this then made me slightly worried about ‘Hotel Iris’ and how it might compare, what I got was a completely different novel I simply wasn’t expecting and strangely cannot stop thinking about.

When a woman runs out a room at the ‘Hotel Iris’ screaming and wailing that the man she has been spending time with is a depraved pervert it causes somewhat of a scene. Watching this all first hand is Mari, a young 17 year old girl who both lives and works in the hotel, for it belongs to her mother, in a rather rundown seaside area of Japan. The scene soon settles, dealt with rather sharply (and also rather telling of her personality) buy Mari’s mother. However something about the event and the mystery man in question, in particular his voice which seems to awaken something in Mari from the instant she hears ‘shut up, whore’, stay with our heroine. So when Mari sees him a few days later in town she decides to follow him, not ready for the fact she soon gets confronted and with surprising consequences.

What follows on from here is a rather bizarre and brilliant reading experience all in one, and quite unlike any other books that I have come across. Without giving too much away a relationship of sorts starts between Mari and this sixty plus year old man (who we come to know only as ‘the translator’) and one with some rather sado-masochistic tendencies, which proves to be a rather touching and also deeply disturbing love story as well as a coming of age tale too. This to me is a brave and absolutely masterly piece of writing and one that I don’t think many authors could pull off.

Her writing is short and succinct in this novel, everything is very to the point and almost blunt, This is all quite different from her other novel ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ which I wondered was because she matched the tone of the book to the subject matter and I think shows that Yoko Ogawa is a versatile writer we should all be paying attention to the future career of. Here I do think it should also be mentioned that I think the translator of ‘Hotel Iris’, Stephen Snyder, has also done an incredible job too, it could have been easy to try and lengthen the novel yet it is kept short (in fact only 164 pages) though not quite so sweet.

So what happens with this unlikely duo, will it end well or could there be a dark climax to it all? Well you would have to read the book to find out, something that I strongly recommend people do, even if you feel the subject matter might make you uncomfortable. To miss out on ‘Hotel Iris’ is to miss out on a rare and unusual reading experience which you will be left thinking about long after the single sitting read you have awaiting you (I would be amazed if anyone could stop this book once they have started). Some books you read, some you experience, this is certainly the latter. 9.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

I must mention that it was Kimbofo’s review that made me put this book much higher up the TBR than it originally was. I do like a dark and unsettling read now and again and this ticked all the boxes for me. Can you recommend any others that might have the same effect? Have you read ‘Hotel Iris’ or any of Yoko Ogawa’s work and what did you think? Has anyone else read this novel and ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ and were you impressed/shocked by how very, very different they were?

P.S Sorry bout todays layout changes, iPad’s/Apple and wordpress aren’t mixing well today!


Filed under Books of 2011, Review, Vintage Books, Yoko Ogawa

19 responses to “Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa

  1. Thanks for the shout-out. So pleased you liked this one! I really loved this strange and wonderful book, and have been thinking about it a lot. I really want to read The Housekeeper and the Professor now.

    • I thought this one was brilliant Kim and it was your review that sent me in the direction of it sooner than planned so you deserved the shout out. I always like to know where bloggers hear of other books just cos I am nosey lol.

      I thought The Housekeeper and The Professor was a brilliant book, very simplistic but brilliant.

  2. novelinsights

    This sounds just up my street! Or does that make me sound like have have wierd interests… Anyway, thanks for seconding Kimbofo’s glowing comments. It’s on my wishlist!

    • No it doesnt mean you have weird interests, it means you like dark little books and who doesnt… if they are being honest? I also know you have a passion for Japenese writing too so yes this is VERY much up your street Pol.

  3. I have read and reviewed both The Housekeeper and the Professor and Hotel Iris and similarly loved/was unsettled by how polar opposite they were. I must read The Diving Pool next.

    I’m a huge fan of dark reads and themes with a bite to them. I recommend Fall On Your Knees by Ann Marie MacDonald for a book that is uncomfortable to read at times and stays with you.

    • Yes I am definitely keen to get my hands on a copy of The Diving Pool I have to say. I didnt realise it was a collection of short stories (I dont think I have made that up) which I find quite exciting.

      You have mentioned Fall on Your Knees before and alas I think its one of the books that went missing in the box that went missing in the move. Eugh!

  4. Chelsea

    Sounds fantastic! I LOVED The Housekeeper and the Professor, and wasn’t aware she had come out with a new book. Thanks for the review, Simon!

  5. JoV

    I have read all three of her novels which are translated and must say I read the Housekeeper and the Professor first, then Diving Pool and then Hotel Iris and it just gets darker and darker, nonetheless very disturbing read for the last two!

  6. Annabel

    I did love the Housekeeper… so this one sounds fab too. I’ll look out for it.

  7. Louise

    I’m off to Waterstones today,i’ll look out for these 🙂 I recently read Tiger,Tiger… i don’t usually read that type of thing, but i couldn’t not read it,most unsettling!

    • I have seen this Tiger, Tiger everywhere suddenly. I picked it up, read the blurb, was shocked, read the prologue and thought ‘is it wrong that I actually want to read this book?’

  8. Loved this book! I love anything by Ogawa – she is just talented beyond words. So glad you liked this book – it is definitely one that haunts you afterward. And it is definitely not what you are expecting from Ogawa – which perhaps added to its excellence. Great post!

    • I have found both her books have really stayed with me afterwards and that to me is the sign of a great writer. They are also amazingly powerful for smaller books, I’m not saying that you have to have a huge book to hit home, Ogawa just does a huge amount with a little here and there.

  9. Juanita

    I also loved The Housekeeper and the Professor. I was just talking about it yesterday. It had not occurred to me to check if she had anything new out.

  10. Pingback: Do I Want To Read… Memoirs, Of A Kind? « Savidge Reads

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