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BookBrowse Reviews All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

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All the Lovers in the Night

by Mieko Kawakami

All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami X
All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 224 pages

    May 2023, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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About this Book



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.

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

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2022, and has been updated for the June 2023 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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