Monday 8 March 2021

Book Review: Hotel Iris by Ogawa Yoko (Contemporary Fiction)

Title: Hotel Iris
Author: Ogawa Yoko
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Publication Date: 2010 (1996)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Borrowed from Library

In a crumbling, seaside hotel on the coast of Japan, quiet, seventeen-year-old Mari works the front desk as her mother fusses over the off-season customers. When, one night, they are forced to eject a prostitute and a middle-aged man from his room, Mari finds herself drawn to the man's voice, in what will become the first gesture of a long seduction.

The mysterious man lives quietly as a translator on an island off the coast. A widower, there are murmurs around town that he may have murdered his wife. Mari begins to visit him, but as he initiates her into a dark realm of both pain and pleasure, she finds herself also attracted to his earnest young nephew. As Mari's mother and the police begin to close in on the illicit affair, events move to a dramatic climax.


Ogawa's prose in Hotel Iris is as beautiful as ever. It's deceptively simple, yet the tone and imagery draw you in. The blurb describes the translator as a middle-aged man; however, he is actually in his late sixties, making the age gap between the main characters fifty years. I had no issue with that per se. What I did find somewhat uncomfortable was the portrayal of BDSM, since it did not show safe behaviours. This is BDSM done wrong. Despite that, I found I couldn't put this book down and I wanted to see how things would unfold and resolve. The ending was mostly satisfying and overall it was an interesting read, even if it is not my favourite of Ogawa's works. If you are new to Ogawa's writing, I don't recommend starting with this one, but established fans of her work might want to give it a try.

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