When I first read the summary of Hotel Iris I didn't know what to expect. The pain and pleasure, would it be that of Marquis de Sade or something soft and mildly shocking? Either way, it managed to grab my attention and I dug into it with great interest.
Mari is a seventeen-year-old girl, who lives with her controlling mother. They own an old and neglected hotel, the Iris. One night a past-middle-aged man checks in with a prostitute, but during the night they cause a disturbance and they are turned out of the hotel. Mari is drawn to the tone of the voice of that man, which is firm and commanding. Some days later she meets him outside and they start talking. Eventually they form a relationship, hidden from Mari's mother and the man, who we learn is a translator, initiates Mari to pleasure and pain.
The story is not something exceptional. On the one side, there is a middle-aged man who is widowed for many years and is taken with a girl much younger than him and so he feels much livelier. On the other side, there is a young adult who has dropped school and is trapped in a hotel with a mother too controlling. They both have their issues and their relationship has even more, but it's also a remedy to all those problems and they try to break free from.
Both the man and Mari are difficult characters to explain. They both have likeable and unlikeable sides to them. The translator away from his house is very kind, he's shy and thoughtful. He's one of those men that try their best not to make the other feel uncomfortable in any way. But he has a tendency to violence when he feels threatened, for example when they don't let them into a restaurant. When at home he is completely transformed. He is authoritative, commanding and cruel. Mari is very observant, having grown up in a hotel. She is also very tolerant towards her mother and the translator, although being raised to such a controlling environment she seems familiar and even drawn to the cruel behaviour against her. Sometimes she even tries to make the man mad at her, for example when she betrays him with his nephew and when he finds out she admits it and hopes that he will humiliate her some more.
The romance in Hotel Iris is bipolar as well. In his letters, the translator is very kind and gentle and professes his love in an amazing way. Anyone who saw me would think me odd indeed, but those with impoverished hearts cannot recognize simple miracles writes in one letter, and who can deny that those are some beautiful words to say and mean. Also, when they are together outside, they hold hands, they talk and they fall in that comfortable silence that you can only share with the one that truly understands you. If it was the only case I wouldn't mind the age gap between them, but it's not the only one. When they go to the man's house he disgraces her and humiliates her in every possible way, but Mari finds pleasure in it.
This pleasure though is brought with a cruel way. The man ties Mari in a way that she cannot move, he hits her with a whip, he slaps her and he even chokes her. He makes her put on his socks using only her mouth, she makes her move in the house and do several chores but without using her hands and she ties her in a way that her body forms different furniture in order to take nude photographs of her. But Mari enjoys it, even when she was losing her consciousness from the lack of air she felt pleasure. When she was putting on his socks she was turned on because it was the only occasion that she touched his skin. Ultimately they didn't have sex, the translator never took any of his clothes off. He explored Mari's body and she was enjoying it, but the act was never complete.
To sum things up, Hotel Iris is a sexually-explicit novel. Both the sex scenes and the romance are disturbing and some might find them shocking. Cruelty doesn't bother me, so I was able to enjoy this book, although I would recommend it with caution. If you can get past this the narrative is excellent and there is so much to discover in both of the protagonists' psychology.
So my advice is...
Beware of the cruelty.