All the Lovers in the Night is Mieko Kawakami’s latest novel to be translated into English from Japanese. The novel focuses on Fuyuko Irie, a freelance copy editor in her mid-thirties. Lonely and deeply dissatisfied with her life, Fuyuko musters up the courage to take agency of her situation and in the process is forced to confront painful episodes from her past.
I found the book to be a really interesting character study. You can definitely tell Fuyuko was written by a woman through Kawakami’s delicate approach and astute observations on patriarchal capitalism. Fuyuko takes a passive approach to her life, allowing others to make decisions for her and choosing safety over happiness. She explains that this is because ‘ I was so scared of being hurt that I’d done nothing. I was so scared of failing, of being hurt, that I chose nothing. I did nothing.’ All the Lovers in the Night is essentially a discovery of self, which isn’t a new concept by any means, but it was refreshing to read in a book about a woman in her mid-thirties.
One thing I didn’t particularly enjoy was the romance of the book. I understand that it was included to further Fuyuko’s character development but it detracted from what I loved most about the book — the women. For instance, Hijiri, Fuyuko’s boss, is in many ways her guide to creating a sense of self. She is successful, confident and sex-positive (although not everyone sees her this way) and for much of the novel Fuyuko attempts to model her behaviour on Hijiri’s. The women in this novel see each other as their competition but the ending goes some way in addressing their internalised misogyny. The romance, meanwhile, didn’t make sense to me — I can’t get excited about a thirty-five-year-old dating an almost sixty-year-old —and I’m still no closer to understanding Mitsutsuka’s character.
I think it would be wrong to think of this as a romance novel because those parts, at least for me, didn’t seem central to the book, so I think that’s worth bearing in mind if you choose to read All the Lovers in the Night. There were parts of it that I loved, others I found dragged a bit, but I think it’s worth a read if you’ve enjoyed other books by Kawakami or you’re into slice-of-life narratives. (Please remember to read the content warnings before diving into this one.)