All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami
Mieko Kawakami is not a writer who misses an opportunity to make a bold statement, and this is certainly the case with her new novel. Her two previous books, Breasts and Eggs and Heaven, told profound, powerful stories about the strengths and vulnerabilities of people who are easily trodden down by the world around them. All the Lovers in the Night delivers the Osakan author’s signature emotional punch in a simpler yet beautiful way. She challenges the strict Japanese societal expectations that women should marry and have children before they are deemed too old, by questioning what exactly a ‘fulfilled’ life looks like.
The protagonist, Fuyuko Irie, leads a solitary life. She works from home as a freelance copyeditor, avoiding interaction with others as much as possible and preferring the company of fictional characters to real people. But despite the peace she finds in her privacy, there is also a deep, yawning loneliness that stretches endlessly throughout Fuyuko’s days. She wonders if there is anything meaningful about life anymore – if she will ever know the ‘fun’ that others seem to be having all the time. As we learn more about Fuyuko’s past and the heartbreaking events that led to her seclusion, we find more similarities between ourselves and Fuyuko than we expected. There is gratification to be found here, in Kawakami’s understanding of how difficult it can be to move forward and take the next step, even – and most especially – when that means stepping out of your comfort zone.
All the Lovers in the Night is a marvellous treasure. Kawakami’s gentle, tranquil prose will sweep you away as you follow this story of a woman in her mid-thirties, first lost in overwhelming sadness, yet ending with the promise that there’s never an age limit to experiencing friendship, romance and self- love all over again.