Convenience Store Woman
by Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (Translator)
Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis–but will it be for the better?
Sayaka Murata brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. With some laugh-out-loud moments prompted by the disconnect between Keiko’s thoughts and those of the people around her, she provides a sharp look at Japanese society and the pressure to conform, as well as penetrating insights into the female mind. Convenience Store Woman is a fresh, charming portrait of an unforgettable heroine that recalls Banana Yoshimoto, Han Kang, and Amelie.
We all know I fell in love with the haunting, quirky works of Japanese author Yōko Ogawa last year. I was drawn in by style of writing, capturing the atmosphere of Japan, Japanese people and their culture in so few words. “Convinience Store Woman” is not a Ogawa book, but author Sayaka Murata‘s style is so similar, drawing the reader into the convenience store through the eyes of Keiko Furukura.
Keiko is a 36 year-old woman who’s been living alone and working part-time in the same store for the past 18 years. She’s seen staff come and go but the store remains pretty much the same. With no relationship history and no job prospects, her friends and family worry for her future, but Keiko isn’t really bothered. She’s happy with her life and the way things are going.
“I am one of those cogs, going round and round. I have become a functioning part of the world, rotating in the time of day called morning.”
Keiko is quirky and she’s always been considered a little odd, but she so desperately wants to be considered normal and to conform. Telling an entertaining story of social commentary, Murata explores social pressures and expectations that we set for one another, how we judge and make assumptions about people just because they’re a little different.
“The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of. So that’s why I need to be cured. Unless I’m cured, normal people will expurgate me.”
I really liked the simplicity of this book and I devoured the pages on one day’s commute. Of course, with only 168 pages, reading it all in one day is not especially impressive but despite being small in size, this story certainly has a powerful heart, drilling home how the expectations of society affect each and every one of us.
Overall rating: The plot is original, the characters are quirky and fun and the language is simplistic. I really enjoyed “Convenience Store Woman” and it has only made me even more eager to pick up more Japanese literature and give it a try – 5 stars!