Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, follows a single, 36-year old woman called Keiko Furukara who has worked part-time at the same 24/7 convenience store for 18 years, and, despite the concerns of her family and friends, she is totally fine with it. Keiko has always had trouble fitting in and acting “normal”, so she feels comfortable with the structure and concrete set of rules provided by this routine job. As a result, she becomes an exemplary convenience store worker, completely attuned to the requirements of her job, so much so that her day-to-day routine is arranged solely around serving the convenience store.
The time before I was reborn as a convenience store worker is somewhat unclear in my memory.
Admittedly, I was worried going into this book that Keiko would be one of those annoyingly quirky characters that just feel unrealistic, but her idiosyncrasies and very rational way of thinking actually made her a charming protagonist to read about. Keiko has always been aware that people find her very strange, so she tries to mirror the behaviour and speech patterns of her colleagues in order to appear more “normal”. But as she gets older, the people around her start to express more frequently their concern about her unusual career choice and her non-existent love life. Even though her strict adherence to the convenience store’s training manual makes her a perfect employee, she worries that people still view her as inadequate.
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. Finally I understood why my family had tried so hard to fix me.
The book is quite humorous, but it takes a darker turn when Keiko meets Shiraha, a lazy, opinionated, unattractive, and basically unemployable man, who is also an outcast, but for very different reasons. He treats Keiko very badly, but she finds a way to use him to appear more “normal” in the eyes of her co-workers, family, and friends.
In essence, the novel is a biting exploration of the societal expectations placed on women. Women are pressured to contribute to society either by getting married and having children, or/and pursuing a challenging professional career. Moreover, the book shows that, sadly, it is often that women are the ones who uphold these societal expectations and put pressure on each other. Even though the story specifically deals with the norms of Japanese society, I think the issues discussed here are relevant in all parts of the world. It’s an insightful look at how society treats people who are outside the “norm” and do not conform to its criteria.
I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend this quick and clever read about an unconventional love story between a woman and a convenience store. 🙂
Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this book via NetGalley.