Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa

July 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

I was looking for something quiet to read. I gravitated to the few Japanese novels I had sitting on my shelves, and thought Hotel Iris would be a good choice. There was no synopsis, no summary, no abstract on the back cover, so I really didn’t know what I was in for. Now, after I’ve finished reading it, I realise that there is, in fact, a summary of sorts, printed inside of the front cover.

But it’s too late for that now. Had I read those three paragraphs before the book, I may have simply put it back and picked another one (most probably another Japanese author).

The novel started innocently enough. Mari is a young girl who helps her mother in running a simple hotel somewhere in Japan. One night, a prostitute-looking lady comes screaming out of her room, and the man who induced this screaming is a simple-looking man, quite in his golden years.

Mari is captivated by this man, and when she gets the chance to see this man outside of the hotel, she follows him, curious to know – what exactly? – this man. What follows from there is a reluctant dance between the two, one so obviously pulling at the other, while the other subconsciously submitting to the one.

It’s like a love story. A very disturbing love story. Or maybe it’s not really a love story. It’s a story of obsession, of some crazy, unexplainable part of our minds and hearts that is so dark and twisted, that we probably never knew existed. Or maybe we do know it, only we’ve never allowed it to surface, to peek through, or to even admit that it’s there.

The man is a maniac. That’s my conclusion after reading the book, and after I’ve let it sit there for a week or two. The man raped Mari, tortured her, time and time again. Mari is a child, an innocent being who couldn’t know any better. She was tricked, conned, led to believe the impossible and brainwashed to such an extent that she no longer knew what was right or wrong.

But when I was reading it, when I was fully immersed in the ups and downs of Ogawa’s voice through the pages, I felt like I knew why Mari kept returning to the man, why she craved the things he did to her, despite, or sometimes even because of, what it made her feel. The cruelty she had to endure was so that she could feel the intimacy she so wanted to have. To feel like she was the whole world to him, like there was nothing between the two of them, nothing separating him from her.

In the light of day and logic, none of that makes any sense. But deep in the darkness of our hearts, there may be some reason why we allow such cruelty to happen to ourselves, why we put ourselves through such excruciating pain and suffering, all just to feel the exhilaration of that one moment.

There is some uneasiness in every page, some pages more than others. And you get a sense that something is very wrong. But still, there’s this nagging feeling that maybe you’re just not getting the full story, maybe there’s something to this, maybe it’s justified. But it’s not, and you know it – nothing should ever justify doing such cruel things to anyone, let alone a young girl.

I was looking for something quiet to read. This was anything but.

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