Publisher: Portobello Books
Published: June 2018 (originally published July 2016)
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
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.
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.
Keiko could not have been more on point. The society has a set of rules that you need to conform to, and particularly if you are Asian. Anyone who does not adhere is regarded as a pariah.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata follows the journey of Keiko, a socially awkward 36-year old who struggles to fit in. As we step into August and the Women in Translation month, what better time to share my thoughts on one of my favorite translated books of the year.
Although it is not clearly spelled out, the protagonist does appear to be a person with Asperger’s syndrome or on the spectrum. This is her journey of self-discovery and the realization that she can be her own person, quirky or not.
Through the course of the book and her interactions with family and co-workers, her idiosyncrasies are explored. We are made privy to her experiences during childhood and how her parents were desperate to ‘cure’ her. She is an individual who is comfortable in a job of thirteen years but still feels the need to blend in. The way she apes the behavior of her co-workers to appear normal is heartbreaking to read.
Her parasitic ‘boyfriend’ Shiraha is the stark opposite. He refuses to conform to the rules and is unapologetic about it. The survival of the aggressive is his motto. The contrast between the two characters makes it a compelling read.
The book is not a feel-good read. It may appear quirky at first, but it is a compelling narrative of the struggles of a socially awkward individual. I highly recommend the book.A compelling read about the struggles of a socially awkward individual to conform to the rules of the society. Click To Tweet
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is available for purchase at Amazon.