“Hotel Iris”

Hotel Iris

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Yoko Ogawa’s 2006 novel, translated in 2010 by Stephen Snyder. I read a Picador paperback from the library.

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3 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Seventeen-year-old Mari enters a violent relationship with a sixty-seven-year-old translator.

Parts of Hotel Iris are much better than 3 stars but the things that bother me are enough to drag my overall rating down. Ogawa’s clean, simple style is incredibly intelligent and readable. But the central relationship is disturbing and there are upsetting, graphic scenes of sexual violence.

I am not against BDSM between consenting adults with established trust. But Mari never verbally consents to the relationship; up until the last sex scene between her and the translator, she pleads, “Stop! (…) Please stop! You’re hurting me!” (p.156). Her calm mental narrative tells us that she does not want it to stop, that she is taking pleasure in the abuse, but by never verbalizing it, this story reinforces the terrible idea that women actually mean yes when they say no. Mari and the translator have no safe word, no way to communicate consent. It’s a frighteningly unhealthy relationship.

Many of Ogawa’s protagonists are disturbed, though they never question their actions or mental health. They are what they are and do not apologize or wonder about the reasons. It’s fascinating.

Other aspects of Hotel Iris are incredible; images and scenes will stay with me. The prose is so smooth, the images so vivid and strong, that I also have to give huge credit to Ogawa’s translator, Stephen Snyder. Continue reading

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“The Diving Pool”

Diving Pool

[Explanation of Reading Journal/Entries]

Three novellas by Yoko Ogawa, originally published in 1990-91 and translated by Stephen Snyder in 2008. I read a Picador paperback from my great, wonderful library.

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3 out of 5 stars (averaged).

Times Read: 1

My second Ogawa outing (after Revenge). I’m getting a handle on her style and liking it quite a lot. These stories, like all in Revenge, are told in first person. The language is straightforward and full of somewhat universal elements (food, weather, animals) while giving very few cultural-specific references (I think the only city mentioned by name is Tokyo). I can’t remember the last author I had to look up so few references for. It makes Ogawa’s work extremely accessible.

Ogawa’s translator, Stephen Snyder, is also very good. The stories don’t feel translated. The sentences are smooth and clear, the images (even surreal ones) conveyed well. Continue reading

“Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales”

Revenge 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

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Yoko Ogawa’s 1998 novel built with short stories. I read my library’s 2013 Picador paperback translated by Stephen Snyder.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1.

The Plot:

Eleven first-person stories interweave to tell the dark events of a city.

Ogawa builds her stories on refreshingly simple language; short and to the point with touches of darkness, poignancy and surrealism. The reality within the fiction is challenged in fascinating ways (some stories are “written” by other characters, but those fictional characters interact with other “real” ones). It has a clever Pulp Fiction vibe without feeling showy or derivative.

An interesting thing about Ogawa’s style, which I didn’t notice until typing these notes: no characters are given names. At most we have a “Mrs. J” and “Dr. Y.” Otherwise, Ogawa sticks to simple pronouns or family positions (he, the woman, the father, her son, etc), which adds to the campfire, ghost story feel.

Continue reading