All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

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

However, as the long-overdue change occurs, painful episodes from Fuyuko’s past surface and her behaviour 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 make them cry, but it will also remind them, as only the best books do, that sometimes the pain is worth it. 

It didn’t make me laugh or cry, but I enjoyed this read very much. 190 people have collectively rated this at 3.73 on Goodreads and it doesn’t fall below 4 for me.

If you’re looking for a complicated plot you won’t find it here. This is a slice of life novel, which means it uses a narrative technique where the reader sees glimpses of the character’s life, with mainly a sequence of events presented without a great emphasis on plot development,in these novels there doesn’t have to be a glaring central conflict or a definitive resolution. I think there’s central conflict in a rare flashback when we come out of Fuyuko’s usual day-to-day and experience some of her past. 

The ending was also satisfactory for me, but it is subtle. There’s nothing grandiose about the story. It is a tender story about a woman in her thirties trying to find her way back to reconnecting with her world and her life. 

Those are my general thoughts and if you don’t like too much detail before reading a book, you may not want to continue reading as I am now going to touch on some themes.

The novel is slow at the start, and this emphasizes how repetitive and mundane Fuyuko’s life is. Scenes pick up in pace when we have Hijiri involved; she is vibrant and is Fuyuko’s opposite in many ways. She always seems to be going out, she dates different men, and likes to be seen. The only things she shares with Fuyuko are a strong work ethic, being in her thirties and seeking connection – which is perhaps evident in her friendliness toward Fuyuko, and her dating approach. We then have an old friend of Fuyuko’s discussing how marriage and parenthood aren’t what she envisaged. Three women in their thirties who’ve got very different lives – one celibate, one is dating widely, one in a committed relationship; all somehow disconnected and isolated in their ways. 

Something about how the intricate details got me invested in Fuyuko’s story. On the surface she is as lacklustre as she feels, but what we find with the gentle unravelling of her story is that Fuyuko is as equally capable of vibrance as Hijiri. When I consider the setting and characters, I think of words like radiance, glow, and vibrance. Light suffuses the whole book and it’s is something Fuyuko has a fascination for. It is a subject that she gets to discuss when a tentative arrangement develops between her and a man named Mitsutsuka. 

“As I took in the night, I saw that Mitsutsuka’s shirt was glowing white, from his shoulders down his back. It glowed in a way that reminded me of the smells of winter. Floating in the tide of summer washing over us were signs and streetlights, lights from cars and countless other lights, but the light coming from Mitsutsuka’s shirt was foreign to this summer night.”

If you’ve read the book when you watch this review, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Remember to add Spoiler at the start of the comment if you go into details. In particular, I wonder whether you feel as I do that as much as she keeps to herself, Fuyuko has a beautiful capacity for seeing the light in others. She doesn’t acknowledge that she has that same spark, but she appreciates it in those around her. I think that she and Mitsutsuka saw potential in one another that they couldn’t see within themselves.

My thanks to Netgalley and publisher Picador for an ARC

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