‘All the Lovers in the Night’ by Mieko Kawakami – Trapped in the Prison of Herself


‘All the Lovers in the Night’ by Mieko Kawakami   (2011) – 221 pages           Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd


I figured it was about time I read Mieko Kawakami having so far missed her first two acclaimed novels that were translated into English (‘Breasts and Eggs’ and ‘Heaven’).

Is it possible for someone to feel desperately alone in the twenty-first century, this time of cell phones and social media?

Tokyo woman Fuyoku Irie is 34 years old, a single woman. She works as a proofreader, looking for errors in books that are about to be published. This is a job she can do at home, on her own. The only woman who she comes into regular contact with is Hijiri who assigns her books to proofread and stops by occasionally. Hijiri is about the same age as Fuyoku, but her life is much different from that of Fuyoku. Hijiri has several boyfriends with whom she goes on weekend or extended vacation trips. Meanwhile Fuyoku stays home.

November came and went one day at a time, without my speaking to anyone. Sometimes a wind from the depths of autumn hit my window with a dry rattle. I spent a few hours of the day with galleys, flipping through reference materials or visiting the library if necessary. Nobody attempted to talk to me, and I made no attempt to talk to anybody else.”

And then Fuyoku meets 55 year-old male physics professor Mitsutsuka. We never do find out his full name. Over several months she meets up with him a number of times, usually at the restaurant bar he frequents. She gradually begins to open up to him, but it is a slow process.

Fuyoku starts to question her solitary and isolated life up until then.

The job that I was doing, the place where I was living, the fact that I was all alone and had no one to talk to. Could these have been the result of some decision I had made?”

I won’t go any farther into the plot. In ‘All the Lovers in the Night’ we are dealing with a real, specific woman and how she lives her life, not a bunch of cliches that are strung together. And the prose is as clear and resonant as a bell ringing.

I count the lights. All the lights of the night. The red light at the intersection, trembling as if wet, even though it isn’t raining. Streetlight after streetlight. Taillights trailing off into the distance. The soft glow from the windows…Why is the night made up entirely of light?”

Truth is in the light, the colors, and the sounds.

Grade:    A

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