CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN by Sayaka Murata
When the publisher asked if I’d like a copy of CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I love reading Japanese fiction (usually novels translated from the Japanese) or any novel that has some connection to Japan. It’s a culture I admire and respect, and at the same time I love that Japanese writers bring a uniquely compelling and sometimes quirky perspective of life with their stories. Murata’s novel did not disappoint at all; I loved its dry humor, satirical elements and the emotionally ineffectual and positively quirky protagonist.
The novel follows the convenience store woman, Keiko, who has been working at the store for many years; it’s a rhythm and routine she has adapted as a mask that she wears for the world. Keiko is, in fact, an oddball who has never fit in anywhere; her family is intent on curing her “illness” that makes her detached from life. Probably her own connection is her younger sister, who teaches her how to behave around people and what to do to appear “normal”.
Keiko has learned to become an expert in the ways of being a good convenience store worker; she’s great at her job, which most people consider as a transitional work experience. People are always leaving and joining as convenience store workers, because it’s the kind of job people take up in the interim or when they need to make a bit of cash alongside being a student. It’s certainly not, for other people, what it is for Keiko; a place that adds normalcy to her otherwise “alien” existence.
Keiko is a bit of an outsider who tries to figure out the ways of the world; she’s emotionally absent and doesn’t understand society’s rules and ways; but with the help of her sister she tries to blend in. Working in the convenience store and pretending to have an illness that has rendered her weak and hence, not ready to settle down with a husband, is the most that she can do to divert the attention from herself and live a satisfying existence. She doesn’t understand the social pressure to get married and the standards by which she’s nearly an “unmarried old maid”. In a way, what makes this novel so interesting and compelling is Keiko herself and her position of disguise, along with the convenience store. The rest of the plot and secondary characters just fall into place, but the center of attention is definitely these two.
The convenience store is like a character in the novel, one that extends into a busy and familiar setting as well. While reading this I could easily conjure up the store in my mind, from the sights and sounds to the life within the store which I’ve also noticed in our supermarkets and corner stores in Saudi Arabia. This was a very interesting setting to read, like a whole new world really, and I would love to see more stories set in such spaces. The author herself works at a convenience store, and that was very obvious with how confidently she wrote about the place and its dynamics.
Perhaps the brilliance of the novel is in Keiko’s journey of trying to be a part of a social system that sees her as an outcast. I loved the satirical element to this; the author explores social norms and constructs that seem ridiculous to Keiko (a woman who is almost mechanical in her existence and doesn’t feel anything), and eventually to the reader as well. I think this book has the capacity to make people think about their own life choices and why they follow a certain path in life. This is an excellent pick for book clubs that want plenty of (heated) discussions and laughs.
Overall, I loved it and read it in less than a day. It’s a fun, quirky novel with the right about of ridiculous moments and thought provoking developments to make you question how we live as a society. The ending was perfect. I think by the end of the novel any skeptical reader would begin to support Keiko and want her to have a quiet life, rather than a forced lifestyle.
Thank you so much to the publisher Portobello Books for sending me a free copy!
2 thoughts on “Book Review: CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN by Sayaka Murata”
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