Hotel Iris

by Yoko Ogawa

Read time: about 5 minutes

Browsing through shelves that seem to go on, my list of “to buy” books lies crumbled at the bottom of my bag. I pick up books that I had no plans to buy, I buy books by Authors I have never heard of, and I buy books that are simply cover buys! This is how book shopping at a store goes.

I picked this book from the rows of books first due to its cover, and then the blurb had me intrigued. Here is my experience of reading this very strange book.

Hotel Iris


The book is published by Vintage Books. It is a simple cover but something about it had me drawn to it. It has an off-white background, with brownish flowers on it. There is a black bold stripe making the cover stand out some more. It is a translated book, so probably there might be a different cover for the book that is originally written in Japanese. But this simplistic cover by Vintage is simply beautiful.


Mari is a 17 year old girl who helps her mother run Hotel Iris. They have a kleptomaniac maid, and a dead father surfaces periodically. There is a 67 year old man, addressed as “the translator” and his dumb nephew.


The old man is a guest at the hotel, but due to the ruckus created by him and his companion, he is asked to leave. Mari, who is the receptionist and helps her mother run the hotel, is enraptured by this man. She chances upon meeting him again, and there begins the relationship of this strange pair.

She feels trapped and stuck at her job that she did not want to take up. Her mother seems to want to control her and makes her feel like she’s hit a dead end. Her escapades with the translator are erotic and kinky. Her dominates her, and pushes her submit to him and his lifestyle. Mari willingly embraces the life of a submissive and feels like the pain inflicted on her is pleasurable and is her escape from her horrid life.

She barely knows anything about the translator, not even his name. And when the mute nephew of the old man comes to stay with him, their lives are changed some more.


The book is translated from Japanese, and I think the writing is really the highlight of the book. The writing is impactful. It is raw and appeals to you in the most rugged way. The writing is melancholy and paints a beautiful picture of the whole event.

It gave me the feeling of watching the sea with its rocky beach. The sunlight dancing on the water is uplifting, while the grey clouds competing with the frothy waves are just as beautiful. However, the sharp, jagged stones at the edge of the sea have you stepping back. But they don’t stop you from enjoying the scenery. That is how the writing is- it is beautiful in a sad, dark way and has you drawn to it. But something about it is repulsive, it is ugly and has you cringing but that is really the beauty of it.

Good Points

It is a very unique take on a theme that is gaining a lot of audience. There are probably a lot of books written with BDSM as the premise, but this one is truly unique.

The writing is dark and portrays lives of the characters with precise realism. It has you cringing, and yet you read on, to find out more about the story goes on. You are not looking for the end, but just to see how the story progresses.

Bad Points

There wasn’t anything that I disliked about the book.


Often, a hot, brooding and a very wealthy man is dominating a mousy /fiery (but someone who seems to enjoy being a submissive just as much)partner. Here, the glorified portrayal is shunned. Will this practise still seem pleasurable if it’s an old haggard man doing all those things to a sad teenager? Does it still seem emancipating in any way if a young girl who is just coming to terms with her body finds solace in being tortured by an almost stranger? The fine line between desire and desperation is highlighted here.

Though the hot brooding dominant is really desirable, this book showed BDSM in a different light, and for that- this book deserves a few extra brownie points.

Who do I recommend it to

It is a novella that is raw and intriguing. If you don’t shy away from gory details, and look forward to different takes on common subjects- pick this up!

Quotable Quotes

It was as if a tiny crack had opened somewhere in him and was growing, tearing him to pieces. If he had simply been angry, I might have found a way to calm him, but I had no idea how to put him back together once he came apart.

All these things we had long since forgotten she gathered up one by one in her hands, caressing and warming them until they came back to life. It was as if she had come in place of the goddess of the rainbow to offer her grace and affection. She was perhaps the only one who ever truly loved the Hotel Iris.

It’s not a matter of being sad or lonely. No, it’s as if am being sucked into some hole in the atmosphere, to disappear altogether. Pulled in by an overwhelming force, and once am gone, I’ll never be back.

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Gazala Amreen

Logophile, bibliophile, writer, designer, high on wanderlust and all things pretty.

Bangalore, KA