“The Housekeeper and the Professor” may be Yoko Ogawa’s most critically acclaimed and well-known work, but her 1996 novel “Hotel Iris” is a more beguiling tale that evinces the mystery and violence of love.
The eponymous hotel is old and drab, built on a resort island that has lost its luster. It’s also where the narrator, Mari, a taciturn high school drop-out, lives and works under the watchful eye of her spendthrift mother. The book opens with a sordid encounter between a prostitute and a hotel guest — a man old enough to be Mari’s dead father — which doesn’t end happily for either party. Shortly after, Mari begins following the mysterious man, a lonely translator, around the seaside town, and befriends him, or perhaps he befriends her. Both parties are willing, which is key to what unfolds in their unlikely and, at times poignant relationship. From this point, the novel moves quickly to establish their bizarre and increasingly violent encounters. Mari keeps finding excuses to meet him, so “he can do what he wants to my body, and my soul.”
Ogawa writes sparingly, perhaps wisely considering the topics she covers. Her style is crisp and never indulgent, oceans away from the breathless exuberance of the “Fifty Shades” franchise.
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.
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