A double-whammy of rusty review writing and the sheer amount of time that has passed since I read this, Yoko Ogawa’s most well-known novella, should logically result in a post full to the brim with all manner of vagaries and other such nonsense. The thing is; I love both this book and Yoko Ogawa so much it is simply impossible to forget.
Stumbling across a pristine copy of Ogawa’s less well-known The Housekeeper and The Professor at the charity book shop last year I was taught a sublime lesson in subtlety (not, if you know me, my strong point.) The author’s prose is so wonderfully elegant and beautifully spare – even in translation – and has an element of the surreal that is so utterly … Japanese…whatever I might mean by that. Having read countless rave reviews about this particular novel I thought it wise not to use it as a show-stopping introduction to Ogawa’s work, approaching it instead in a far more oblique away.
Am I glad I savoured this one? Oh yes siree.
Mari is a lonely, beleaguered teenage girl working for her mother at their run down sea-front hotel at a Japanese coastal resort. Following an altercation between an unassuming middle-aged man, his prostitute and her mother at the hotel one night, Mari becomes infatuated with this mysterious stranger; firstly with his voice and his beautifully written letters and later with his uncommonly firm hand…
As with her earlier novel, Ogawa replaces her harmless ‘professor’ with the presumably meek and mild (and anonymous) ‘translator’. Mari’s infatuation with her learned new friend accelerates, travelling to his island home where she is initiated into a dark, sensual world of pleasure and pain until she fails to come back home at all.
Hotel Iris is a thought-provoking novel that is viewed as controversial and transgressive most probably due to our stuffy sensibilities and general attitude that anything involving private parts is pornographic and anything with whips and chains included…well, I shudder to think.
Ogawa’s powerful prose evokes a culture and life for the unconventional couple that is full of restraint and unfulfilled desires. In each other they find a relationship that offers momentary liberation from the drudgery and loneliness of everyday life. Is this love? Only their author knows. For me however it was just that as I became besotted once again with her poetic turn of phrase, menacing plot line, timeless characters and the ever-pervading sense of guilt of the voyeuse. Oo er missus.
My only complaint Miss Ogawa, is that you rushed in at the end. After the gentle, lilting rhythm of her tale, the fast-approaching ‘real world’ and all of its trappings and consequences came rushing in a little to quickly for my liking. Can’t we remain in that private yet sordid world for just a little bit longer? Please?
Hotel Continental, Brno by Anna Armstrong via Flickr