Review: Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

Mari is manning the front desk at the ramshackle sea-side hotel owned by her mother the night before the start of the busy season when a second-floor scuffle breaks out between a guest and a prostitute. The latter lands in the hallway, screeching and flailing, amid a mess of tossed pillows, strewn clothing, and a spilled purse. Other guests file into the hallway to gawk, and the john — a stoic suit-wearing sort — says to the woman in a hypnotic voice Mari likens to a mellow horn or a cello:

“Shut up, whore.”

His voice wedges itself in Mari’s soul, and is the starter pistol to a whirlwind sadomasochistic, um . . . romance?. . . between the 17-year-old high school drop out with long shiny hair and a truck-load of self loathing, and the man — a translator who lives alone on an island and is rumored to have murdered his wife, the unlikely stars of Yoko Ogawa’s dark Japanese novella Hotel Iris.

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