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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

All the Lovers in the Night

Kawakami Mieko

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To purchase All the Lovers in the Night

Title: All the Lovers in the Night
Author: Kawakami Mieko
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 221 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: All the Lovers in the Night - US
All the Lovers in the Night - UK
All the Lovers in the Night - Canada
De toutes les nuits, les amants - France
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: すべて真夜中の恋人たち
  • Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very nicely melancholily turned

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 10/6/2022 Mia Levitin
Le Monde . 26/6/2014 Florence Bouchy
The NY Times Book Rev. A 8/5/2022 Jo Hamya
TLS . 10/6/2022 Emily Barton
The Washington Post A 5/5/2022 Hamilton Cain

  From the Reviews:
  • "Deftly translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, her prose retains the accessibility of a blog, with glimpses of lyricism. (...) By highlighting the inner lives of outsiders, Kawakami’s work takes aim at the social structures of class and gender." - Mia Levitin , Financial Times

  • "De toutes les nuits, les amants, son deuxième roman publié en français, est sans doute un kaléidoscope de toutes les façons qu’a eues, ou aurait pu avoir, l’écrivaine de vivre en désaccord avec le monde et avec son cortège de conformismes. (...) Point d’événement spectaculaire dans ce roman. Et, pourtant, la densité romanesque de l’ensemble est remarquable, les fils nombreux et harmonieusement tressés, la vivacité des dialogues, saisissante -- qu’ils se caractérisent par leur humour ou par les sentiments subtils qu’ils laissent affleurer -- et les scènes, agréablement visuelles. C’est tout un Japon contemporain et méconnu qui se dessine sous nos yeux." - Florence Bouchy, Le Monde

  • "(W)hat makes Kawakami's novel so brilliant is an understanding of why women might willingly adhere to regressive modes of performative femininity, even while they criticize it. (...) 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." - Jo Hamya, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The author employs a specific sort of realism, with close attention to ordinary physical detail as well as the grotesque." - Emily Barton, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(E)ngrossing, fine-boned (.....) Kawakami approaches the body clinically, a forensic examiner with her protagonist on the slab. (...) 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." - Hamilton Cain, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Asked by Hijiri Ishikawa, the woman she answers to for work, to "tell me something about you", the narrator of All the Lovers in the Night is flummoxed:

     I understood what she was asking, but I couldn't think of a single thing about me that was worth sharing. My name is Fuyuko Irie, a freelance proofreader, thirty-four years old. I'll be turning thirty-five in the winter. I live alone. I've been living in the same apartment forever. I was born in Nagano. Out in the country. One of the valleys. I like to go out on a walk once a year on my birthday, Christmas Eve, in the middle of the night. But I was sure that no one else could comprehend what made this fun, and I had never mentioned it to anyone before. I had no friends to talk to on a regular basis. That was it. The full extent of what I could tell her about myself.
       After graduating from college she had gone to work for a company and, despite not really fitting in, stayed on for a decade or so. When the opportunity to work as a freelancer came up three years earlier she had jumped at it. The move compounded her social isolation, but she had hardly been part of the community at her previous place of employment either. Now, working from home, she has even less contact with anyone, with only Hijiri getting in touch with her regularly.
       Fuyuko is not just alone, she seems practically incapable of immersing herself in anything, life completely passing her by. She is a proofreader, bent over texts every day but without ever connecting with the content:
     The first thing they teach you as a proofreader is that you're not supposed to read the story on the page. That goes for a novel or any other kind of book. No reading allowed.
       But that lack of involvement is exactly what she seems to want, or need: she understands that: "it was the right kind of work for me".
       Fuyuko avoids engagement, of any sort: she doesn't watch TV, barely reads books or listens to music -- and admits: "I had no friends to go out with or to chat with for hours over the phone". She is not completely without human contact -- Hijiri checks in on her, and she keeps in loose touch with some old friends -- but basically she is terribly alone. As she comes to realize, too, she's come to look like: "the dictionary definition of a miserable person".
       Fuyuko is also in a kind of rut, living in a routine of blandest sameness, without let-up: "I would probably never notice if the previous six months and the six months to follow had been switched around".
       At the start of the story, Fuyuko also does not drink, and hasn't even tried alcohol for ages, but she takes it up with a vengeance -- finding that with the help of copious quantities of sake and beer: "I developed the ability to let go of my usual self". Not that she becomes some wild child or anything, but she at least considers shaking things up a bit -- maybe taking a course at a local culture center, for example. That's the plan, anyway, but steeling herself with alcohol when she goes to sign up winds up getting in the way of actually going through with it. But at least something comes of it: she meets a man there, Mitsutsuka, who tells her that he is a physics teacher.
       A relationship of sorts does gingerly develop between them, but it is halting, slow, and awkward; Fuyuko doesn't even learn his given name for example, and only always calls him Mitsutsuka. (That he, too, is hard to pin down -- and perhaps not exactly who he seems to be -- is also suggested by his name; it's more obvious in the original Japanese, where the kanji that make up his name -- 三束 -- have different possible readings, but that's explained in the translation as well: "I get Santaba all the time. Sanzoku, too" he tells her.)
       We do learn one likely reason for Fuyuko's behavior, and why she is so wary about any sort of relationship, especially a romantic one, but she seems to want to try to overcome that. Even though her relationship with Mitsutsuka long remains a very casual and mostly distant one, she clearly develops feelings for him -- but has difficulty acting on them. Instead, her self-isolation just increases: she does stop drinking, but seeks out even less contact; it gets so bad that at one point when her phone dies she doesn't bother charging it and just puts it away in a drawer.
       Eventually, she does reach out to Mitsutsuka , and tries to acknowledge her feelings. She is overwhelmed by the depth of feelings she clearly long has not had -- "I really liked him, even though I knew nothing about him, and he knew nothing about me". She lays herself bare -- but catharsis, especially for someone who has long blocked out so much of everyday life, is painful.
       Yes, Kawakami doesn't go for the simple happy endings of fairy-tale romances; her characters are too real for that. Even as these two figures are drawn to one another, the li(v)es they have been living are a hurdle that is difficult to overcome.
       Deeply melancholy, All the Lovers in the Night isn't sad or depressing. Fuyuko has been going through life in a sort of daze, but she's not hopeless; she can't get out of her skin -- made clear also the time when she dresses up in Hijiri's clothing -- but she's struggling to find a way to move ahead. In typical Kawakami fashion, the book does close on the smallest of hopeful notes, Fuyuko reaching out (if only for a notebook and pencil) in the night and jotting some words down -- perhaps, one imagines, a creative spark that can help lead her down a new, constructive path ......
       It's all very nicely done, without the easy satisfactions of and-they-lived-happily-ever-after fiction and instead offering deeper and more lasting ones; it aches with real life.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 April 2022

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All the Lovers in the Night: Reviews: Kawakami Mieko: Other books by Kawakami Mieko under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kawakami Mieko (川上未映子) was born in 1976.

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© 2022 the complete review

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