“I’m sorry. Forgive me” They were words I had said over and over to my mother since childhood. Though I’d had no idea what forgiveness meant I had cried for it nonetheless.
Well, this was a bit dark. Scratch that this was all dark, maybe with a few gray tints. I don’t mind dark. In fact, I like it, however, I usually take it in large quantities with my horror, mental psychological fictions, and poetry. My dark reads are hardly ever in my literary fiction, erotica, or romance. It’s not that I don’t like it there, it’s just that I’ve never been compelled by the books I’ve read. Most of the erotica or romance novels involving dark themes have walked a fine line between romance and rape, and as a result leave a bitter taste in my mouth. Hotel Iris did not.
“I was confused and afraid, and yet somewhere deep inside I was praying that voice would someday give me an order, too.”
This is Mari’s first reaction to hearing the voice of the man she dubs the Translator. Right there the reader is privy to the essence of her character. Against her wishes and without quite understanding it herself, she likes being told what to do. Craves it even.
Mari is seventeen and works at the Hotel Iris, her family’s seaside hotel. Her mother runs the hotel with a frugal rigidness. Mari is her employer first and daughter second. One night a guest of the hotel causes a scene with a prostitute and is promptly kicked out. That guest turns out to be the Translator. The Translator is a much older enigmatic man who makes a living as a Russian translator. He lives alone on a neighboring island, and his isolation is as intriguing to Mari as it is mysterious. She finds herself enthralled and unable to stay away from him.
Soon the two start an illicit relationship where Mari’s wish is granted and the Translator commands her to follow his every whim. Many of these scenes can be quite disturbing. Yoko Ogawa’s doesn’t spare her readers any details into both the physical and psychological workings of her characters. I will emphasis this is book is not for the fainthearted. I cringed several times, however, I did not have the urge to look away.
Many of the books that I have read that tackle this touchy subject matter, have failed for me because they portray these deeply disturbed characters, yet they don’t offer any reasoning behind it other than. “He was hot,” With Mari, I knew why she liked being tied,whipped, humiliated because Ogawa doesn’t tell us she shows us.
He had undressed me with great skill, his movements no less elegant for all their violence. Indeed, the more he shamed me, the more refined he became — like a perfumer plucking the petals from a rose, a jeweler prying open an oyster for its pearl.
Does Mari glorify what happens to her? Yes. Is she an active participate? Yes. Should we judge what other people are into? No.
There is never a blurred line between the Translator and Mari, and this is why I could appreciate their story. This might be difficult for some readers to stomach. However, Ogawa doesn’t so much expect her readers to suspend disbelief, but she makes them want to understand her characters and their minds, and for me it worked.
What I loved most about this book was the writing. Ogawa’s writing is smooth yet simple. She doesn’t try to twist anything into poetry though it often times comes out like that anyway, and I loved it. All the hard gritty nuances of the story are laid bare for the reader. I fond myself glued to the writing and its dreamlike tone which carries on a serene feel throughout this dark story
Despite the BDSM troupe, this book is not solely about sex. It’s a story of loneliness and a psychological look at the mind of girl whose life has never been her own. It portrays her gaining some amount of control over her desires, even if it’s ironically handing that control over to someone else.
Overall, this is not for everyone. However, if you’re looking for something dark twisted and brutally honest then let Hotel Iris surprise you.