Fuyuko Irie is a freelance copy editor in her mid-thirties. Working and living alone in a city where it is not easy to form new relationships, she has little regular contact with anyone other than her editor, Hijiri, a woman of the same age but with a very different disposition. When Fuyuko stops one day on a Tokyo street and notices her reflection in a storefront window, what she sees is a drab, awkward, and spiritless woman who has lacked the strength to change her life and decides to do something about it. As the long overdue change occurs, however, painful episodes from Fuyuko's past surface and her behavior slips further and further beyond the pale.
[All the Lovers in the Night] hinges on this double bind created by the feminine ideal: the gloom spawned by a woman’s inevitable failure to measure up to impossible standards of beauty and likability, coupled with a lack of any other available framework through which she can view herself or her peers ... There is a cleverness with which All the Lovers in the Night addresses these changes, romantic and professional, in its protagonist’s life. By including alcoholism among them, Kawakami circumvents the shtick of stale 'glow-up' narratives, and preserves Fuyuko as a cipher ... What 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. The desire to be loved is no small thing ... 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.
... engrossing, fine-boned ... deftly translated ... Night, for this author, is an uncanny space where anything can happen, and narrator Fuyuko Irie’s preface unfurls as evocative fragments ... 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.
Kawakami doesn’t just assemble a tactile detail and park it in a scene. Sensation itself drives her scenes, the way the senses can steer a poem ... The startling vividness of Kawakami’s images draws the reader deeper into the emotional intensity of the scenes ... When Fuyuko reconnects with a now married childhood friend with two kids, I hoped Kawakami would scramble my prediction that this friend would be a quickly sketched stay-at-home wife in a sexless marriage. When two work friends each give Fuyuko a present, I hoped Kawakami would conjure a surprise other than the obvious symbolism of receiving the same generic gift from two of the few people in her life. In instances like these, the novel doesn’t seem as finely honed as Kawakami’s earlier books. The translation, too, sometimes falters into vernacular that seems out of place ... Throughout most of the novel, Bett and Boyd conjure the poet’s sensibility of Kawakami’s prose with great skill, and co-translation is a strange art ... This third Kawakami co-translation from Bett and Boyd contains ample evidence of a thriving collaboration. Their choices are especially strong in scenes where Fuyuko finds emotional relief in language ... Kawakami has good instincts for creating an air of suspense, although that’s not what sets her novels apart. It’s her ability to make the mere passing of time, choosing to step outside and be alive, seem like an event ... Kawakami has found a meaningful answer to the question of what to do with feelings. She releases them into novels.