Books & Literature

Book Review: All the Lovers in the Night, by Mieko Kawakami

LITERARY FICTION: The acclaimed and bestselling author of Breasts and Eggs and Heaven returns with a blistering, shocking and poetic story set in contemporary Tokyo.

Outstandingly beautiful, moving, and intelligent.

Fuyuko lives alone, filling her days with her work as a proof-reader. A true introvert, she never drinks, has only had sex once, and has never worn makeup nor dressed in anything but the simplest clothes. But she is gradually befriended by a work colleague, Hijiri, who is her opposite: extroverted, gregarious, fashionable, and emotionally open. One day Fuyuko decides to visit the local vocational education institute to enrol in a course. It is there that she meets Mitsutsuka, an older high-school physics teacher, with whom she embarks upon a tentative friendship imbued with a promise of something more. Gradually Mitsutsuka teaches Fuyuko more about one of her favourite subjects: light. Her friendships with both of them gradually shape her life into a new form.

All the Lovers in the Night is the third novel by Mieko Kawakami to be translated into English. The first two, Breasts and Eggs, and Heaven, ensured her reputation as one of the most vital and exciting voices in literary fiction. Kawakami has an unerring ability to get under the skin of emotionally held characters, playing them off against those who are more open and outwardly emotional. Her works dwell in the world of, if not the outsider, at least the outlier. Fuyuko is one such character. And she is drawn in such a way that the reader empathises with her, whilst also regularly finding her annoying, as do other characters around her.

As a proof-reader, Fuyuko has almost no voice of her own: she is used to absorbing and correcting the voices of others. Her introverted nature keeps her safe from hurt, and when she leaves her day job and begins freelancing from home, she is even more able to exist in her own world. It is only when hurt finds her that she is able to begin speaking in her own voice.

Kawakami’s work operates on myriad levels: the emotional, the sociological, the poetic, and the political. She portrays and advocates for the Japanese woman, who is still immured in an ancient patriarchal tradition, and blatant sexual hypocrisy. None of the relationships she portrays, whether familial, romantic, friendly, or collegiate, are predictable or cliched. There are constant delights and surprises with every turn of the page.

And every word that Kawakami writes is as carefully prepared and served as the most delicate Japanese sashimi. She is a poet, who happens to write her poetry in the form of novels. Kudos too, to Sam Bett and David Boyd for their outstanding translation.

All the Lovers in the Night is beautiful, moving, surprising, sometimes funny, delicate, and warm.

This is a work that will stay with the reader and continue to speak to them, long after the book itself has been closed.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: May 2022
RRP: $32.99

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