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’s prose is gentle and the pace is lovely ... It is a book about small, almost unnoticeable victories, like standing up for oneself, making a friend, or touching another person’s skin ... I was deeply moved by Fuyuko’s cathartic journey and Kawakami’s wise rendering of it, and I expected the novel to end on a peaceful, pleasant note. Instead, its conclusion was bewildering and frustrating enough to make me whisper 'What?!' out loud, grimacing at my wall for a minute or two. All the Lovers in the Night ends in a way neither sentimental nor satisfying. It feels like a betrayal, a sensation I can’t believe wasn’t Kawakami’s intention. When one looks at the story’s arc from above, it shows a tentative upward crawl toward hope and then, almost out of nowhere, a brutal decline—the very way sexual assault can devastate a life in a matter of minutes ... This subtle, authoritative book offers important insights and could be a welcome companion for survivors, but it offers no answers (easy or otherwise).