NY Times Reviews “All the Lovers in the Night”

The Double Bind of the Feminine Ideal

In Mieko Kawakami’s latest, a woman tries to shed her loneliness by drinking a lot.

By Jo Hamya

Twice in Mieko Kawakami’s “All the Lovers in the Night,” a 34-year-old proofreader, Fuyuko Irie, receives a pale yellow bottle of perfume by the luxury brand Chloé. Both bottles are gifts from work friends: first the glamorous Hijiri, an outspoken neoliberal feminist who shows her affection by regularly commissioning Fuyuko for freelance jobs; and then Kyoko, an editor at the Tokyo publishing house that Fuyuko quits at the start of the novel, to work alone.

For the uninitiated, Chloé scents are characteristically inoffensive and lovely — soft, powdery and marketed as “quintessentially feminine,” with ads featuring tousled, natural-looking models. Over drinks one night, Hijiri notices Fuyuko isn’t wearing makeup, and asks her, “You’re not one of those natural types, are you?” Not one of those women who are “all like, oh, I’m so natural, just being the me I’m supposed to be.” Kawakami’s third book to be translated into English, by Sam Bett and David Boyd — after last year’s “Heaven,” and “Breasts and Eggs” in 2020 — 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. Read the full review at the New York Times.

© Literary Affairs, 2005-2023. All Rights Reserved.