Title/Author: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Publisher: Grove Press
In a nutshell (Publisher):
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 heroi
My verdict: A brilliant, bitter-sweet novel about conformity in this crazy, changing world. Read it if you enjoy quirky yet thought-provoking Japanese novels!
At 36 and she’s been working part-time in the same convenience store for 18 years. She’s quirky, weird, bordering on malicious. I mean, thoughts of killing and hurting people are her ways of solving problems and she doesn’t see there’s anything wrong with it; in fact she sees it as the easiest way to solve a problem – like breaking a fight in school by hitting the boy with a shovel, her sister’s crying baby, whom she wanted to stop with a knife.
She finds her ‘new normal’ at the convenience store, where the ‘detailed manual taught me how to be a store worker.’ She follows everything to a T, from greetings to mannerisms. Outside the store, she ‘doesn’t have a clue how to be a normal person…’. The store is her reason to exist.
For a long time, she tries to figure out what is and how to be ‘normal’ and her family wants to ‘cure’ her from her ‘weirdness’. They were successful in that she learns not to vocalize her thoughts, ‘As far as I was concerned, though, keeping my mouth shut was the most sensible approach to getting by in life‘, and tries her best to fit in.
But when people around her start questioning her life choices – why is she still working there, and why is she still single and living alone, why isn’t she bothered by it all, she wonders if she should start behaving and acting as expected to shut them up, and be left in peace.
When she finally gives in, she gets a ‘boyfriend’, leaves her job and tries to find a ‘better’ job, everyone is happy for her but her. She is depressed. She feels she has lost the reason to exist. Her boyfriend, Shiraha, is a misogynist who not only gets fired from his job at the convenient store, but also fails to find a girlfriend who can meet his standards after many attempts, and blames the society for being stuck in the Stone Age.
He agrees to stay with Keiko and acts as her boyfriend when he couldn’t find a better alternative to his current situation. He sits around whole day doing nothing, except have Keiko wait on him hand and foot, and to disrespect her whenever he feels like it.
I absolutely loved this book! It is brilliant on so many levels. It made me laugh and cringe at the same time at the absurdity of society who wants to dictate how she should live. Keiko and Shiraha were living miserably trying to be ‘normal’ and live up to people’s expectations.
Keiko’s character was written so compassionately that it was easy for the reader to empathize with her. She’s almost like a child in an adult body, innocent and pure; a child trying to figure out the ways of the world.
This book was so immersive and introspective, so thoughtful, that I had many passages highlighted for food for thought. So, kudos to the translator as well!
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!
Last but not least, thank you for stopping by. May the power of good books be with you always, especially during this challenging times! Stay safe & well, you all.