This is the first book I’ve read by Yoko Ogawa. I’m not often drawn to Japanese literature but since my book club chose The Housekeeper + The Professor as one of our seven reads for 2015-2016, I decided to buy this one too. The story is about seventeen year old Mari who works in her mother’s shabby little hotel by the seaside called Hotel Iris. The voice of Mari narrates the story in a chilling honesty that is often staggering. She is trapped in the hotel and isn’t allowed to live life very much. So, it isn’t surprising that she is searching for something more, however the violent humiliating relationship she has with the translator is unexpected and odious.
Her mother is a woman running a business and seems to have little feeling for others. The story begins when an incident happens in the hotel between a mysterious man and a prostitute. There are loud noises which are preceded by yelling from the prostitute who leaves the room insulting the man. Mari’s mother threatens to call the police and demands that the damages to the room and the trouble caused be paid. From this point on Mari becomes enthralled with this mysterious man she calls the translator, and has an ongoing explicit relationship with him. Here I must caution readers who have difficulty reading about sex (bondage) and most of all sex between a minor and a man in his sixties. This exceptionally dark novel isn’t only that however it may seem as if it is because it is so short, only 164 pages. I read it in one sitting.
What I liked most about the novel is the writing. Ogawa has a very keen sense of description and the book is full of references to smell, taste, and sounds. The minor characters of the novel accentuate these senses beautifully while telling Mari’s story. There is a blind English woman, a mute nephew, and a kleptomaniac maid. However minor these characters they add to the sensation of the senses that Ogawa seems to be trying to paint throughout the ambience of the book. The translator is a contradiction because he never really explains himself. As Mari learns about him, so do we. His job as a translator should make him a character who is clear but he hides a lot of himself throughout the novel.
I’ve been trying for a few days now to come to a conclusion about what Ogawa was trying to say really in this book and I’m just not sure. After much thought, I think she wanted to write a book full of different kinds of extreme emotions. This we have examples from the beginning to the end. Some things are described so well they appear vividly in the imagination and in my opinion that’s a gifted writer no matter what the storyline. Maybe she just wanted to show a look into Mari’s life. I guess there is a little bit of no one knows what somebody is really living syndrome to the story. Nevertheless, she is definitely an author to check out, if only to experience the beautiful descriptions and where you will undergo intense emotions.