ALL NIGHT LOVERS (2022) BY MIEKO KAWAKAMI – THE CONDITION OF THE MODERN WOMAN
BOOK REVIEW EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ELLA KELLEHER WRITTEN – Like a hamster running on its wheel, going precisely nowhere, Fuyuko Irie, thirty-four-year-old freelance editor-in-chief, does not question the banality of her daily life. The latest publication by Japanese author Mieko Kawakami, All night lovers (2022), follows a character with no real friends, no boyfriend, and no real passion for his job. She doesn’t drink and has only had sex once, in high school. Except for her odd relationship with her narcissistic supervisor, Hijiri, Fuyuko is entirely on her own.
Everything begins to fall apart once Fuyuko risks venturing out for a night of drinking sake and beer. Looking at her reflection in a store window, she becomes terrified: “What I saw in the reflection was myself, in a cardigan and faded jeans, at thirty-four. Just a miserable woman, who couldn’t even have fun on a glorious day like this, alone in the city, desperately clutching a bag full to bursting with the kind of stuff that other people wave or throw in the trash first luck they get. Thus, Fuyuko begins to use alcoholic escapism to forget the horrors of everyday life. A single cup of sake allows him to “let go [her] usual me.
The famous Japanese writer Mieko Kawakami (author of Breasts and Eggs from 2020 and heaven from 2021) focuses on protagonists struggling within societal boundaries. In Breasts and EggsMakiko fought against prevalent stereotypes of femininity, such as women being expected to be obedient housewives. heaven exposed the cruelty unleashed on two school children that society considers “different”. Now the protagonist Fuyuko in All night lovers (2022) fighting complacency. She asks: How can we all be individuals in a modern world where passionless, eight-hour daily work is the norm? Alas, for her, the answer is: Drinking alcohol.
Desperate to feel a deeper commitment to life, Fuyuko enrolls in a course at a local university. She meets a physicist named Mitsutsuka, who immediately electrifies her with his charm. Fuyuko allows herself to be vulnerable with him and admits her particular obsession with light and dark. Mitsutsuka explains the complexities of photons, reflectivity, and the theories surrounding what we can and cannot see. An interesting parallel emerges – the two become each other’s light source. And brewing in dark, invisible places is attraction, if not love.
As the novel progresses, Fuyuko meets Kyoko, a friend who set up her freelance editing job. In this meeting, we are offered a brilliant irony around the condition of modern women. A half-drunk Kyoko congratulates Fuyuko on her newfound career independence while simultaneously criticizing Hijiri (Fuyuko’s obsessed, go-getter boss) for the same self-reliance. Kyoko carelessly tries to avoid offending Fuyuko by stating that “there are a lot of people who want to put themselves forward, competing for the spotlight… [which] makes more trouble for the rest of us. But you don’t have to worry about that, because you’re not like that. In other words, you’re not a real threat because you’re not motivated and won’t go that far anyway.
Kyoko continues to berate Hijiri, whom she envies for her success, and other independent women in her position by judging her frivolous sex life and her beauty. Kyoko fumes that career-focused women “put so much pressure on the women around them… [women] in the office should live up to her example and look pretty while they’re there. With perfect comic timing, Kyoko presents her congratulatory gift to Fuyuko – the same perfume Boss Hijiri gave Fuyuko earlier in the book. Kawakami includes this subtle but effective detail to highlight how despite criticism from women who follow society’s code of femininity, Kyoko still yields to the same standard of beauty.
Kawakami’s genius, amplified by the combined translation skills of Sam Bett and David Boyd, lies in the idea that women often mold themselves into narrow beauty standards and roles of femininity, even while consciously despising it. Why? Because of our very human desire to be loved. Fuyuko is skeptical of motherhood and financial dependence on men. Still, his passion for Mitsutsuka is enough to make him at least try to meet the societal expectation of the “perfect woman”. For their last date, she transforms into a clone of Hijiri – clothes, makeup, hair and all.
The emotional precipice of All night lovers is not the truth that Mitsutsuka reveals about himself – that he is an impostor. Instead, it’s a haunting and utterly devastating line that Hijiri hisses at Fuyuko after her date that echoes Fuyuko’s most heartbreaking sexual assault during her teenage years. Kawakami forces the reader to wonder why women inflict such insidious wounds on themselves. Her stellar writing never loses sight of the massive patriarchal structures that overshadow the events of the novel and lead the female characters down divergent paths. A quick and emotionally impactful read – Kamakami’s latest is worth the time and possible tears.
Ella Kelleher, an LMU English major, is a book review editor and editor for Asia Media International. She majored in English with a concentration in multi-ethnic literature.