All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami | Book Review

Some books let out war cries as they make their point, some are mere noise but no impact. Some books are quiet as they pack a punch that you will remember until the end of your days, and some are quiet and lazy, giving you a much needed respite from everyday life; they are like vacations in a seaside resort – scenic and calm, but put you in touch with yourself. But yet others are so quiet, move so slowly, and make no overall point whatsoever that it just gets on your nerves. The adventure that you seek in reading, in literature, seems to be missing from such books. And one of my recent reads, Mieko Kawakami’s All the Lovers in the Night, is a prime example of that last type.

Before you move on, remember that this is completely my experience and opinion and that your experience with the book and opinion of it might be completely different or might overlap. While I understand why you might like the book, I hope you’ll extend the same courtesy as I share why it annoyed me to no end.

Okay, so now that that’s out of the way…

Listen… I’m a woman in my thirties and I know how droll everyday life is. That’s why I turn to books, so that I get the adventure, the excitement that my ultra-introvert self just can’t seem to glean from real life. But when a book like this comes along, it becomes a whole journey of going from enjoying the slow pace to getting annoyed as NOTHING happens in the story to wondering what exactly happened in there. As I finished All the Lovers in the Night, I had a very confused frown on my face as I stared at the wall opposite me, vexed to no end because of what the book promised and what it delivered.

Let me try to explain what this book is about:

Book cover for All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

Fukuyo Irie is a woman in her mid-thirties with practically no friends and a job as a proofreader. Her solitary life and the decisions she makes (or does not make, depending on how you look at it) brings her to some realizations as she goes. But then, her obsession with a man a quarter of a century older than her becomes her whole personality. She drinks herself into oblivion while telling her only friend that she doesn’t drink, and ends up in the most outrageous of situations. Where exactly all of this leads, I have no clue whatsoever, especially because of the story’s snail pace and how man-man-man-man goes around in her head in a loop, like some song that you find annoying but can’t help but keep singing under your breath.

About the obsessive behavior of the protagonist over a man: I understand angst, pining, longing, but COME ON! Almost every page sees her mooning over him. All for what? I won’t tell because I don’t want to give it away, even if I personally was annoyed by it. All I’ll say is that putting the test aside, Bechdel would have smacked Fukuyo with all the strength she could muster, I’m sure. There’s a limit to how much someone can take repetitive, slow, sleepy stories, and I find that All the Lovers in the Night is my limit. It crawls along, hoping for some kind of redemption from itself, but sadly ends up coughing hysterically as it ends, desperate for it.

Anyway, that’s not even the point. This book is supposed to be quiet. It was pitched as a book about overthinking and as an overthinker myself, I just feel like this was just a very tedious, rambly ‘story’ about a woman pining after a man. I know there’s supposed to be some poetry to the pining and I see it and acknowledge it. That’s why I gave it 3 stars. But it’s not enough for the book to be so one-dimensional. It’s not enough for it to spend tens of pages on this one aspect when there was so much potential in the story, in Fukuyo’s character to be explored.

To be fair, there are a couple of strong points the story has: the aforementioned poetry. And also, the simple facts it states about memories and epiphanies, that they don’t have to descend on you like wrecking balls. They don’t always come to you with a bang. They can creep up on you in the quiet, when you least expect them. When you’re sitting in a corner reading a book or when you’re lying down on your bed scrolling through social media or when you’re just staring off into space. The quieter you are as they come, the more disbelieving you are of them, the more impactful they are. And sometimes, some conversations are the catalysts that bring them out. Without them, they would have remained buried in the black holes of whatever space they occupy. But with them, whole new worlds, whole new possibilities open up. Because what if…?

What if memory were to play around with you? What if…? The author puts it in a better manner here:

Memory’s funny, isn’t it? We remember some things out of nowhere, but so much of what happens, we never think about again. / And if that’s true, what’s memory anyway? There are way too many things you’ll never remember. Sometimes a memory jumps out at you, even though almost everything is lost forever. But what if all the things that we can’t remember are actually the most important ones?

But it’s heavily unfortunate that All the Lovers in the Night, while raising these questions about memory, becomes such an unmemorable book itself. Its misfortune lies in the fact that its most important memories are ones that reduce a woman’s life to hankering after a man or those of one drunken day bleeding into the next, with the plot moving like a tree. Once again, yes, slow books are important, they can be a relief from the chaos of thriller and fantasy and murder mysteries or from the heat of romances or from the enlightenment of coming-of-age stories. But they also need to hold the reader’s attention.

And unfortunately, All the Lovers in the Night doesn’t really succeed in doing that.

Although this isn’t the worst book I’ve read this year, it is one of my most disappointing reads of 2022. I was expecting so much more but all I got was a sleeping pill in the form of a book.

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