Category Archives: Yoko Ogawa

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!

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19 Comments

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

The Housekeeper & The Professor – Yoko Ogawa

I am well aware that I am very, very late to the ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ party. It’s a book that pretty much half of the blogosphere has read and loved. It’s interesting with books like these; if I see too many reviews (and I mean more than six) of one book my brain goes one of three ways. I either want to read them instantly, start to feel nonchalant about them, or go off the idea of reading them for a good six months or so. I am sure I am not the only one in that? Let me know if you ever get any of those thoughts? Anyway back to the book…

‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ is really a tale of two lonely people coming together and it changing their lives forever. The unnamed housekeeper of the title has come into her job after becoming a single mother disowned by her family as a disgrace. Her latest job happens to be for the professor of the title (sorry they don’t have names, so if it starts to sound a little samey in my bookish thoughts be assured it never is in the book) when she is hired by his rather severe sister in law. The professor was once a rather renowned mathematician though after a tragic accident has a memory that lasts no longer than 80 minutes yet he remains obsessed by numbers always asking what peoples shoes sizes are, their date of birth etc and analyzing what lies behind that number and judges people accordingly.

Through the housekeepers son, who the professor renames Root, these two people strike up an unlikely but delightful friendship (I did keep worrying some big romance was coming, but Ogawa is much too clever for that) and it’s this that you follow through the rest of the book. Though there is never really a huge plot snippets pop in and secrets are revealed which make you read on along with the characters and Ogawa’s prose. It’s a subtle book which never beats you over the head with how clever and thought provoking it is or how much it has to say.

I think that the professor maybe one of my favourite characters that I have had the fortune to read this year, and certainly one of the most unusual. In a scene where the professor awakes from a fever and goes through the notes attached to his suit (which help him become acquainted with his life at that point) and reads ‘you have a memory of 80 minutes’ almost broke my heart as Ogawa shows the professors breaking, I couldn’t help but imagine how that would feel every single day for the rest of your life.

If you have happened to flick through the book you will see there are quite a few maths equations, do not let that put you off. I will admit I wasn’t sure I was going to be a fan as though I was good at maths at school I never really enjoyed it (which has always baffled my mother). There are some equations but despite looking really complex the book uses them to move the characters and occasionally the plot forward in a very original way. Who knew a book with equations could be such an emotional journey. Oh and yes I did spot there are exactly eleven chapters which seems apt, the perfect prime number of parts of a rather perfect book. 10/10

I can’t suggest a book that I think is quite like this, but if anyone else knows of any do let me know. For any of those of you who haven’t had the joy of this book pop here for an international giveaway. Now who has read the book, what did you think? And was do you think when lots of the same books appear on blogs, just out of interest?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Review, Vintage Books, Yoko Ogawa

… And Books Received

So in a sort of “ying and yang” double set of posting today I thought my second should be an opposite-ish response. So I am popping this picture up (of two bookish piles) and also a list of some books that have come through the letter box (none have broken my book buying ban, though the parcels may have broken the postman)in the last week. It’s like a tonic post after the above ‘Book Riddance’ really. As I have waffled on a lot in the other post today (which I hope you have commented on) I will keep this as a brief list of what’s come in, no waffling not that there is anything wrong with a good waffle about books…

Two Delightful Bookish Piles

 Book Pile A

  • The Boat – Nam Le
  • Flush – Virginia Woolf
  • Chaos – Edmund White
  • The Given Day – Denis Lehane
  • Orlando – Virginia Woolf
  • Instruments of Darkness – Imogen Robertson
  • The Waves – Virginia Woolf
  • The Aviary Gate – Kate Hickman
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa
  • The House of the Mosque – Kader Abdolah
  • The Piviledges – Jonathan Dee
  • Unaccustomed Earth – Jhumpa Lahiri

 Book Pile B

  • The Ice Palace – Tarjei Vesaas
  • The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilina
  • The Maintenance of Headway – Magnus Mills
  • Lark & Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips
  • In Great Waters – Kim Whitfield
  • The Kindly Ones – Jonathan Littell
  • American Adulterer – Jed Mercurio
  • Major Farran’s Hat: Murder, Scandal and Britain’s War Against Jewish Terrorism 1945-1948 – David Cesarani
  • Ruth Maier’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Life Under Nazism – Ruth Maier
  • Lost World – Patricia Melo
  • Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie De La Tour Du Pin and the French Revolution – Caroline Moorehead

As ever let me know if you have read any of these and what you thought. Or if you have read other works of any of these authors, or indeed have heard anyone else saying things about these books? For example I know another blogger who raved about The Ice Palace and Books on the Nightstand’s Ann Kingman has been raving about Lark & Termite for some time. Over to you and yours…

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Filed under Edmund White, Kader Abdolah, Magnus Mills, Patricia Melo, Virginia Woolf, Yoko Ogawa