Hotel Iris, By Yoko Ogawa, trans. Stephen Snyder
A brave writer who's here to stay
Monday 28 June 2010
Yoko Ogawa's most recent book to appear in English, The Housekeeper and the Professor, was a charming, touching portrait of an unlikely friendship.
In Hotel Iris she has retreated into darker territory, a mode closer to The Diving Pool, the collection of novellas that in 2008 was the Anglophone world's stunning introduction to the Japanese writer's work. By one reading, Hotel Iris is a love story – boy meets girl, relationship begins, girl keeps it secret from disapproving parents, all swelling to an explosive climax. Here, however, the girl is a 17-year-old innocent, the boy sixtysomething, and their relationship based on dominance and sado-masochistic violence. And yes, she loves him and he loves her.
The hotel is Mari's home, a run-down Japanese seaside establishment managed by her controlling mother, with a lot of help from Mari herself and less from the kleptomaniac maid. The Iris bursts to life in the opening scene with a noisy altercation between a distressed hooker and an older man. Mari finds the man's commanding voice such a thrill (she hears him say only "Shut up, whore") that he lingers in her mind, and when a fortnight later she sees him at a shop, she decides to follow him. They talk. He lives across the water on an almost-deserted island, translating Russian guidebooks and pamphlets for a living. One day she accompanies him home. And so the affair begins.
In crisp prose from Ogawa and translator Stephen Snyder, the story expands into a (necessarily ambivalent) study of psychological and sexual dependency, with Mari floating around the hotel as her mother does her hair and tells her she's beautiful, while longing to be reunited with her lover for another session of degradation and pain. Then into the picture, to complicate matters, comes the nameless translator's nameless nephew, who has no tongue, and whom Mari finds pretty interesting too...
It's brave territory for Ogawa, and she manages it with sharp focus; she creates moments of breathtaking ugliness, often when least expected – when the shy, anxious, fastidious translator makes a scene at a smart restaurant – but also sometimes a longing that is touching and tender. What Hotel Iris lacks is a central character with the richness of Ogawa's earlier creations, so that much of the story seems to remain coolly at arm's length.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Paris attacks: Do not call Charlie Hebdo killers 'terrorists', BBC says
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
V&A removes depiction of Prophet Mohamed from website amid 'severe security alert'
Game of Thrones season 5: IMAX releases new trailer with first look footage of Tyrion Lannister
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party