Convenience Store Woman: A Novel
Convenience Store Woman: A Novel . The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction―many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual―and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…
A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.
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About the Author
Sayaka Murata is the author of many books, including Convenience Store Woman, winner of Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. She used to work part-time in a convenience store, which inspired this novel. Murata has been named a Freeman’s “Future of New Writing” author, and her work has appeared in Granta and elsewhere. In 2016, Vogue Japan selected her as a Woman of the Year.
A quick read, and I couldn’t put it down. Keiko is very different from other humans, and she’s aware of that and tries to fit in, not wishing to rock her family’s boat. Her younger sister adores her and as they get older, gives her phrases to use in certain social situations. They protect Keiko by helping her fit in, but since the book is written in first person, and Keiko never mentions a diagnosis, we’re left to wonder what exactly is her problem. Some readers have suggested she’s a sociopath, and in the non-lethal sense, I lean that direction too. Keiko isn’t malevolent, but there are a couple of scenes that carry great foreboding, and you see how she could be very dangerous.
The author does a great job of not telling us what the truth is, but rather letting us walk around in Keiko’s skin as she observes the other humans around her. From this we pick up hints that Keiko isn’t passing for normal as much as she believes. When she gets a man in her life, the metaphoric aspects of the story deepen. For all her weirdness, and for all his toxic unsuitability, the people around her relax and accept her more. They celebrate that she is now part of a couple.