This year, I’m counting down the 12 books I most enjoyed during 2015. As always, they’re books I read this year but they were not necessarily published this year. But books never go out of fashion so let’s not worry about that.
I’m not sure I’d recommend Yoko Ogawa’s Hotel Iris. I’m not even sure I enjoyed it. But it has found its way in to this top 12 because I was so (horribly) transfixed by its fleeting, dreamlike story of a sadomasochistic affair in a Japanese tourist town.
Mari lives and works in the hotel run by her tyrannical mother. One evening, two guests – a prostitute and a middle-aged man – cause a scene and are thrown out of the hotel, but not before Mari hears and becomes fascinated with the man’s authoritative voice. She tracks down the man, follows him around the seaside town, eventually summoning the courage to speak to him, and is invited to his home on a nearby island. And so begins their affair.
I’m dwelling on the early pages of the novel because what follows is pretty unpleasant. Even when Ogawa isn’t describing the sexual relationship – which is violent and humiliating – the story is disturbing: in one scene, Mari is invited to lunch with her lover and his nephew, only to find the whole meal has been liquidised because the nephew has no tongue.
Hotel Iris is a short novel and it ends fairly abruptly, adding to the sense that the events in the story are a dream: it is brief, transitory and we wake from it suddenly, at the peak of its horror. It’s not really for the faint-hearted…
(Tomorrow’s book is a nicer one, I promise!)