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.
Hotel Iris is a stirring novel about the sometimes violent ways in which we express intimacy and about the untranslatable essence of love.
"Hotel Iris is a striking achievement. Ogawa's evocative, minimalist prose carries the story along at a luxurious pace and adds a quiet beauty to unsettling scenes. Dark and seductive, this book will stay with you long after the first page."—Bust magazine
"A young Japanese hostess becomes the object of a dangerous man's obsession. Minimalist Ogawa trades the eccentric relationships of her debut novel for a much darker affair in her latest plumbing of human experience. In an overgrown inn in a sedate seaside town, 17-year-old Mari tries to keep the peace between the customers and her abrasive mother. She's startled one night when her family has to eject a customer for abusing a local prostitute. But the town is too small not to notice the man, and soon Mari strikes up a conversation with the guy, a translator of Russian novels. Their written correspondence is charged and soon so is their sadomasochistic relationship, captured in Ogawa's arid prose . . . Ogawa diverges from her primary story near the end with an equally odd interlude between Mari and the translator's mute nephew, but a sorrowful and artful ending wraps up the girl's story, thoughnot neatly. A spare, disquieting fable."—Kirkus Reviews
"Ogawa explores the power of words to allure and destroy in this haiku-like fable of love contorted into obsession. One rainy evening, Mari, a downtrodden 17-year-old who helps her demanding mother run a seedy seaside hotel, overhears a middle-aged male guest ordering an offended prostitute to be silent. In the days that follow, every word—both spoken and conveyed in surreptitious letters—from this man, a hack translator who may have killed his wife, gradually and inexorably leads Mari to submit to his every sadistic desire. Ogawa's relentlessly spare prose captures both Mari's yearning for her lost father and the translator's bipolar oscillation between insecure tenderness and meticulously modulated rage. As this savage novel drives to its inevitable conclusion, Mari's world collapses around her in both a terrifying bang and a pitiful whimper."—Publishers Weekly
Reviews from Goodreads
He first came to the Iris one day just before the beginning of the summer season. The rain had been falling since dawn. It grew heavier at dusk, and the sea was rough and gray. A gust blew open the door, and...