Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

A quick rundown… The evil version of Fifty Shades of Grey. Mari becomes involved in a secret relationship with an older man that’s not conventional.

Strengths: Confronting, eerie.

Weaknesses: Nothing is spelled out for the reader.

Why I read it: I love Japanese fiction.

Pages: 112 (ebook)

Published: 1996 (Japanese), 2010 (English translation)

Publisher: Harvill Secker (Random House)

Setting: Japan

Rating: 8.5 out of 10


I read this book immediately after finishing Fifty Shades of Grey. Although you may scoff at my linking these two books together, there are quite a few similarities:

  • Somewhat destructive relationship between a young innocent girl and older man
  • Kinky stuff going on
  • Secretive relationship

Saying that, don’t dismiss Hotel Iris if you didn’t like Fifty Shades. They are poles apart in the way that they are written – this book focuses more on the negative consequences of the relationship, lacks graphic sex scenes and describes the setting beautifully.

Mari is the protagonist of this novella. She works a dreary, monotonous life in the small hotel her mother owns. One night, a guest has an altercation with a prostitute and is thrown out of the hotel. Mari and this man strike up a friendship, which then develops into a sadistic relationship in his little cottage on an island nearby. The secrecy of the relationship is pushed to breaking point, with disastrous results.

This is not a happy book. Mari is dissatisfied at both the start and the end of the story – a restless feeling that she can’t seem to escape or solve. It makes you wonder what happened to her after the book was finished – did her life continue cleaning the Hotel Iris day in, day out? Did she fall into another violent relationship or live happily ever after? The novel has a similar feeling of discontent that echoes through The Diving Pool and Haruki Murakami’s books, such as Norwegian Wood.

I found it difficult to place this book in a time period. The resort town seemed kind of old fashioned and faded and the narrative lacked references to mobile phones and internet. The way in that Mari lacks knowledge in getting out of her rut makes me think it’s set in the past – she has no escape from the destructive relationship with her mother or her lover.

Creepy and unsettling, but definitely worth the read. The anti-Fifty Shades.


4 thoughts on “Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

Add yours

  1. I liked her other translated books, and your review has not put me off yet, so I’ll have to look into this one soon 😉 A book about a destructive relationship with kinky sex does not have to be bad, right? 🙂

  2. I’ve never been interested in Fifty Shades… but this sounds really interesting! You had me at the Murakami comparison, I can totally imagine him covering this subject matter so I’m sure this works really well.


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