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Book review: 'Hotel Iris' by Yoko Ogawa

April 9, 2010 |  2:21 pm

HotelirisSusan Salter Reynolds' column "Discoveries" appears in our books pages on Sundays. From time to time, she contributes Web-only reviews to Jacket Copy.

Approach with caution: "Hotel Iris" by Yoko Ogawa (Picador, $14) is a strange novel, gorgeously translated. It is the story of Mari, a 17-year-old young woman who works for her tyrannical mother in a hotel by the sea. She meets an older man, a translator of Russian novels, who lives on an island and is rumored to have murdered his wife. He is a pain artist -- ties her up, hits her, spits on her and humiliates her. And she loves him, seeks him out again and again.

“It occurred to me that I had never heard such a beautiful voice giving an order,” Mari thinks. “It was calm and imposing, with no hint of indecision. Even the word ‘whore’ was somehow appealing.”

The text is so clean you can feel the eerie ocean breeze. You think you ought to stop her, but you’re not sure how or if it is really the right thing to do. You know her mother has caused more damage than the translator ever could. Unlike our world of laws, instincts and moral imperatives, you don’t understand the world of this novel at all. Why would this young, beautiful girl need this fastidious, terrifying man?

-- Susan Salter Reynolds

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