On a rare afternoon, you come across a book with a beautifully poetic title and an impressive ancestry but are unsure what to expect. Will it live up to the hype of its successful author, already a prominent feminist figure in her forties and creator of other works with equally powerful names (Breast and Eggs, Heaven)? You read the blurb—about a thirty-something freelance proofreader in Tokyo who lives alone and struggles to form relationships—and almost pass it off as yet another sad-girl novel. But this slim paperback (220 pages) is an intensely moving and deeply felt character study that is almost haunting in its magic. What starts as a slow burn, almost repetitive, and non-committal narration subliminally dives into deep waters. “All the Lovers in the Night” by Meiko Kawakami brilliantly discusses sensitive subjects like sexual assault, anxiety, and substance abuse without being remotely preachy or flat.
What Happens To Fuyuko Irie?
We meet Fuyuko when she works from home as a proofreader, barely leaving home and scarcely interacting with anyone but her boss. She does not venture out unless necessary, barring her annual walk on Christmas Eve and her birthday. The walls around her are tight and impenetrable, although we only slowly learn why she built them in the first place. One day, when Fuyuko sees her reflection in a shop window, she is appalled at how miserable she looks. Fuyuko is struggling with alcoholism and confusion about her career, interests, and goals when she encounters Mitsutsuka, a physics teacher, at a conference. Over shared cups of coffee and many thoughtful conversations about light and Chopin, her life begins to change.
‘All The Lovers In The Night’ Title Explained: Light As A Metaphor For Life
“The light at night is special because the overwhelming light of day has left us, and the remaining half draws on everything it has to keep the world around us bright.” The book goes into great depth to explain light in the physical and metaphorical senses. What happens to the light we don’t see? Fuyuko asks Mitsutsuka over one of their caffeinated talks. Through the novel, we see her life reflected in the world. Much like light, her life reaches a handful of people, absorbs her memories, and projects her feelings into the universe as she goes on living. It manifests in various ways: isolation, difficulties in trusting others, and an inability to belong. Fuyuko’s night walk on Christmas Eve to capture the glorious lights of Tokyo is one of the highlights of her life. At night, she could feel liberated from the weight of all the feminine ideals society imposes on its women. She could witness people in their multifaceted avatars without getting pressured to participate in social dealings. The lovers in her night were hers alone—solitude, freedom, detachment, a sense of control—and she could enjoy them as she pleased.
Is Fuyuko On The Autism Spectrum?
The protagonist struggles to develop social relationships and is awkward in her interactions. She never settled down in her school or workplace and feels more comfortable working out of her apartment, meeting barely three people in several months. She is also exceptionally detail-oriented, able to identify small mistakes in miles of text without forming any connection with the story between the lines. Her episodes of sensory overload at the mall and the vague manner in which she signs up for a random culture class make it reasonable to assume Fuyuko could be on the spectrum. Undiagnosed and misunderstood all her life. It makes her interactions with Mitsutsuka that much sweeter—full of all the awkwardness and sweetness of falling in love for the first time and finally feeling seen. However, Fuyuko could also be a loner, unable to fit into any of the molds offered by contemporary Japanese society to adult women. She was not in a relationship, didn’t have children, and was not wildly ambitious. No wonder she felt out of place amid the craziness of office politics, or the overt brand of feminism advocated by her boss and friend Hijiri.
Japan is battling with the hikikomori syndrome, which induces extreme social withdrawal in youngsters, to the point of staying confined indoors for months. For Fuyuko, her reclusive tendencies could have emanated from an ongoing conflict between failing to conform and feeling pressured to fit in. Loneliness frequently hides underneath the sheen of an economically progressive Japan, which is also why it often features in the works of prominent Japanese novelists like Murakami and, in this case, Kawakami.
Alcoholism And Mental Health
When the novel introduces us to Fuyuko’s gentle, disciplined life, it is tough to see her as the raging alcoholic she becomes, drinking saké out of water bottles and throwing up in public washrooms. But Kawakami shatters the readers’ hearts little by little as we see her use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Perhaps, a state of drunkenness could pull her out of looking miserable. Her ill-advised self-medication is, sadly, all too common with that battling depression and anxiety. Fuyuko’s low self-esteem, episodes of brooding, and tendency to keep people distant emerge as telltale signs of emotional turmoil.
Female Bonding: The Bonds That Make Or Break
Hijiri, Fuyuko’s boss, friend, and the character she converses with most, have a radically different personality. She is competitive, vocal, and loud in her work, dress sense, and manner. Briefly, she attempts to control her “protégé’s” life by offering her clothes and shoes. But is imitation or a forced transformation into someone else the best way to cope? Womankind may get generalized today, with success synonymous with professional accolades, happy children, and a beautiful home. But not all women have the same defenses or similar demands from life.
A childhood friend, Noriko, also transfers her light, or lack thereof, into Fuyuko’s world. Noriko lives an unhappily married existence, trying to alleviate her misery through an affair. Kawakami’s latest work asks riveting questions that demand urgent answers. Is it possible to have it all if you are a woman? What is ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ for an adult female, and is she ill-adjusted if she shirks societal conventions? How much control do we have over our lives? The importance of female friendships is at the heart of this soul-stirring novel. Fuyuko and Hijiri have different but parallel journeys, struggling to emerge from their comfort zones and finding imperfections in their lives just like they do in manuscripts. But toward the end of the book is a subliminal flicker of hope blossoming from this kind of friendship. It brings beauty to life — messy, dramatic, tangled, but beautiful, nonetheless.
‘All The Lovers In The Night’ Ending Explained
We follow Fuyuko’s footsteps as she ventures out of her apartment—quite literally—and allows herself to accept her feelings. She goes for a hair appointment and indulges in the base magic of a hair blowout. Mitsutsuka and Fuyuko have an idyllic date at a romantic restaurant. But the events that follow break her heart into pieces. It is less a fairytale romance and more cold water in the face. You cannot help but draw parallels with the time her classmate sexually assaulted her and claimed she had asked for it. It could have been this incident that laid the early foundation for her guardedness. This time, Fuyuko was invested in a freshly blossoming relationship, having fallen head over heels for the sensitive Mitsutsuka. But some motifs of her life remain unchanged. It is not straightforward for an adult woman in fast-paced Japan, or anywhere else, to flip her life without stumbling.
An endearing aspect of Meiko Kawakami’s works is the stunning prose. She uses vivid imagery without laying it on too thick. Her choice of words and pacing is pitch-perfect, something that David Boyd and Sam Bett, her translators, have succeeded at translating into English. The author started her career as a poet back in 2006. The poetry lingers in her novels, tempting the reader to earmark every other sentence. The overwhelming sense of detachment is a continuing theme in this book. It starts slow, wandering, and uninterested in committing to anything but work. It follows the personality of its protagonist – the diligent editor who does not read but dissects for error.
“All the Lovers in the Night” is an affecting, emotional journey into the workings of a woman’s psyche and her struggles to find meaning in an unforgiving world. It might remind some readers of “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,” as it shares similarities in its treatment of loneliness and feeling like a misfit. However, this book is much more, exploring everything from emotional trauma to how people address it. It is about Christmas lights, Chopin, and the need to find someone who understands the music of your soul. It is also about the unfinished dreams that plague women in contemporary Japan and the fatigue-inducing responsibilities society expects them to accomplish in social and professional roles.
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