The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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All the Lovers in the Night
All the Lovers in the Night
by Mieko Kawakami

Hardcover (3 May 2022), 224 pages.
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN-13: 9781609456993

Bestselling author of Breasts and Eggs Mieko Kawakami invites readers back into her immediately recognizable fictional world with this new, extraordinary novel and demonstrates yet again why she is one of today's most uncategorizable, insightful, and talented novelists.

Fuyuko Irie is a freelance copy editor in her mid-thirties. Working and living alone in a city where it is not easy to form new relationships, she has little regular contact with anyone other than her editor, Hijiri, a woman of the same age but with a very different disposition. When Fuyuko stops one day on a Tokyo street and notices her reflection in a storefront window, what she sees is a drab, awkward, and spiritless woman who has lacked the strength to change her life and decides to do something about it.

As the long overdue change occurs, however, painful episodes from Fuyuko's past surface and her behavior slips further and further beyond the pale. All the Lovers in the Night is acute and insightful, entertaining and engaging; it will make readers laugh, and it will make them cry, but it will also remind them, as only the best books do, that sometimes the pain is worth it.

Excerpted from All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami. Copyright © 2022 by Mieko Kawakami. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Fuyuko Irie has recently quit her publishing job to become a full-time freelance proofreader, withdrawing more and more from society. She begins to spend time with her editor Hijiri, a charismatic extrovert, and assesses the limitations of her own life.

Print Article

All the Lovers in the Night follows Fuyuko Irie, a woman in her mid-30s who doesn't have nearly as many lovers as the novel's cryptic title may suggest; instead, she has almost no one in her life. Having recently quit her job at a publishing house, Fuyuko has become a full-time freelance proofreader, working from home. She has no connection to her family, who live in a remote village in the countryside; she has no partner, no friends, and now, no colleagues, except for her editor Hijiri, who she speaks to only on the phone.

When Hijiri invites Fuyuko out for drinks one night, Fuyuko's carefully ordered world begins to crumble around her. She sees in the confident, charismatic, extroverted Hijiri everything she is not, and she starts to examine her own life more closely. In an effort to do something different for herself, she attempts to enroll in a course at her local community center, where she meets Mitsutsuka, an older high school physics teacher she strikes up an uneasy friendship with. The changes in Fuyuko's life are accompanied by heavy drinking—a habit she has picked up from Hijiri—and in attempting to reclaim control, she ironically begins to lose control of her actions, her work quality and her carefully structured existence.

Kawakami's book is a masterclass in depicting the insidious nature of loneliness, and in showing the ways in which passivity shapes a life every bit as much as action does. Fuyuko is shy, demure and agreeable. The first major decision she makes in this novel (and perhaps her life)—to quit her job—is hardly a decision at all. A former colleague suggests the possibility of becoming a full-time freelancer, and Fuyuko simply agrees.

Fuyuko walks through life as though blindfolded, but rather than presenting a straightforward fable where our unassuming protagonist comes to love her life through learning the value of asserting herself, Kawakami offers a thornier reality. The more Fuyuko tries to make the decisions one is theoretically supposed to make, the more these decisions chafe against her body and mind. She is often physically ill, she becomes unable to handle her workload, she fails to understand the motives that drive Hijiri, even as she begins to model her own life after her colleague's. The novel grapples with the complexity of societal pressures by showing a protagonist who lives an existence that society deems unusual, while also assimilating to her peers in every way she can.

There are no easy conclusions to be derived from Fuyuko's journey; Kawakami instead depicts a deceptively multifaceted individual with all the contradictory messiness of real life. All the Lovers in the Night, translated from the Japanese in sharp, engaging prose by Sam Bett and David Boyd, is a quiet, meditative novel that will appeal most to readers who enjoy a slow burn and a thoughtful character study. As for Kawakami's occasionally funny, occasionally devastating insights into the intricate nature of human relationships, they aren't to be missed.

Reviewed by Rachel Hullett

Entertainment Weekly (A Most Anticipated Book of 2022)
In the skilled hands of Bett and Boyd, Kawakami's prose is instantly recognizable—immediate, incisive, and unfailingly honest.

New York Times
[B]rilliant...Kawakami's novel is uncompromisingly candid in its appraisal of the harm women inflict on one another, while never losing sight of the overarching structures that lead them to do so in the first place. Compact and supple, it's a strikingly intelligent feat.

Oprah Daily (A Most Anticipated Book of 2022)
Her most accomplished novel yet…A contemporary Japanese master continues her meteoric rise into our literary firmament.

Washington Post
[An] engrossing, fine-boned new novel...All the Lovers in the Night adroitly plays off collective dissonance and sorrow. And with this consummate novel, Kawakami's star continues to rise, pulsing against a night that's anything but holy.

Booklist (starred review)
Candid and searing, Kawakami's latest is another brilliantly rendered portal into young women's lives.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Kawakami has created a rich and notable examination of the varied ways women choose to live their lives and the gains and losses that come with the choices they've made. Kawakami writes with the tender and incisive sensibilities of a poet...An unforgettable and masterful work.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[S]ensational...The author dazzles with her exploration of emotions and intertwining of lofty discussions of metaphysics with descriptions of Fuyuko's routines, making her an extraordinary character who moves effortlessly between different worlds as she struggles to find herself. Kawakami turns this study of a 'dictionary definition of a miserable person,' as Fuyuko calls herself, into an invigorating and empowering portrait.

Print Article

Loneliness and Social Isolation in Japan

People walking in an alley in Tokyo, Japan at night Loneliness is one of many themes deftly explored by Mieko Kawakami in her novel All the Lovers in the Night, which follows a freelance proofreader living in Tokyo who has withdrawn from society.

A 2022 study conducted by the American Psychological Association concluded that global rates of loneliness have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Japan, this increase has added to an existing phenomenon: The country has long been known for its high rates of loneliness. There are at least half a million people in Japan who live as "hikikomori," a term coined by psychologist Tamaki Saitō in 1998. Hikikomori are essentially people who live in complete physical and social isolation, and they officially comprise 1.57% of the Japanese population, with experts thinking the real number is probably higher. Researchers have cited social media as a potential contributing factor to growing rates of hikikomori.

While hikikomori is a Japanese term and Japan has specific measures in place for tracking data on this type of social isolation, the phenomenon is hardly exclusive to the country. A 2017 study that included Japan, South Korea, India and the United States concluded that hikikomori exists "cross-nationally."

Loneliness is present in Japan in its own culturally specific way, however, even in people who would not consider themselves hikikomori. Japanese society is known for its high expectations in schools and the workplace, as well as placing strong value on humility and the prioritization of others over oneself, all of which can make people feel too ashamed to seek help. Traditional Japanese values of collectivism clashing with globalized Western individualist values is another factor that has contributed to the growing feeling of loneliness in Japan, claims Takahiro Kato, a professor of psychiatry who studies hikikomori.

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, has done nothing to help alleviate this phenomenon. A national survey concluded that nearly 40% of the Japanese population has experienced high rates of loneliness during the pandemic. The highest rates were found in people in their 20s, people with lower incomes and people who live alone. Suicide rates have also increased, particularly among women. A lot of these factors tend to be linked: Marriage rates for young women have dropped, meaning they are more likely to live alone and support themselves, while at the same time often being unable to find steady employment. In 2020, Japan saw its highest rise in the national suicide rate in 11 years. In October 2020 alone, a staggering 2,153 people died by suicide, which was more than the total number of people who had died in the country that year from COVID-19 (1,765).

In 2021, the Japanese government appointed its first ever Minister of Loneliness, 71-year-old Tetsushi Sakamoto, to address the national mental health crisis. Sakamoto has declared that he plans to introduce policies that will tackle social isolation.

People walking in an alley in Tokyo, Japan at night, by Aleksandar Pasaric

Filed under Society and Politics

By Rachel Hullett

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