Hotel Iris is a haunting, unusual book exploring the complexities of desire through the lens of an unlikely relationship.
The story begins on the coast of Japan, where Mari, a shy 17-year-old, spends all her time helping her mother run a ramshackle hotel. One night just before the summer season, Mari and her mother are forced to kick out a middle-aged man and a prostitute for creating a scene with a loud argument. With a single phrase, the man orders the hysterical prostitute to shut up, and Mari is immediately captivated by his calm and imposing voice. When she runs into him again by chance, she learns that he is a Russian translator who lives alone on an island off the coast. The two begin meeting in secret, and the translator teaches Mari the art of love by shedding his quiet exterior to become a harsh and punishing master. Despite her lack of prior experience or even desires, Mari revels in the translator's cruelty, revealing, "Only when I was brutalized, reduced to a sack of flesh, could I know pure pleasure."
Although these characters feel slightly underdeveloped, all in all, Hotel Iris is a striking achievement. Ogawa's evocative, minimalist prose carries the story along at a luxurious pace and adds a quiet beauty to unsettling scenes. Dark and seductive, this book will stay with you long after the last page.