She found sanctuary in a supermarket. Now, she’s about to lose it.
Keiko isn’t normal. At school and university people find her odd, and her family worries she will never fit in.
To make them happy, Keiko takes a job at a newly opened convenience store where she finds peace and purpose in simple daily tasks.
But in Keiko’s circle it just won’t do for an unmarried woman to spend her time stacking shelves and ordering green tea. As the pressure to find a new job – or worse, a husband – increases, Keiko is forced to take desperate action…
IT IS THE START OF ANOTHER DAY, THE TIME WHEN THE WORLD WAKES UP AND THE COGS OF SOCIETY BEGIN TO MOVE. I AM ONE OF THOSE COGS, GOING ROUND AND ROUND. I HAVE BECOME A FUNCTIONING PART OF THE WORLD, ROTATING IN THE TIME OF THE DAY CALLED MORNING.
Originally written in Japanese, Ginny Tapley Takemori’s translation of Sayaka Murata’s delightfully odd Convenience Store Woman is like nothing I have read before.
It’s actually quite a tough feat to sum this one up, I’m left quite baffled by it. It was as dark and depressing as it was funny and fascinating. The way Murata writes, it was like I’d lived Keiko’s whole life through her eyes even though the book is so short with snippets into her rather awkward childhood.
There’s something charming about our socially inept outcast of a main character, Keiko. I felt a great deal of sympathy for her situation, but towards the end of the book I was almost berating myself for doing so. She might not fit in with ‘the cogs of society’, but she is one hell of a strong character deep down and Murata proves so at the end.
For all the times we chuckle at Keiko’s observations and the responses of those around her, there’s an underlying twinge of sadness throughout which becomes increasingly prominent towards the end with the secondary characters lashing out at Keiko for her differences. The phone call between Shiraha’s sister-in-law and Keiko was gravely shocking, moving me to tears as we’re given an insight into how people view so-called ‘oddballs’ like Keiko, trying in vain to “cure” them. It was at that moment I realised Sayaka Murata had truly penned something entirely unique and so very, very important.
Sure, it’s strange. It’s definitely a little more than weird. I can see why the book might have been a bit of a miss for some people as Murata bluntly starts off by highlighting what would be deemed by others as extremely disturbing behaviour or emotional reactions Keiko had as a child before quickly showcasing how she has developed into an adult who has learnt how to blend in with the ‘normal’ façade of society. It’s an amusing and relatively short read and while it’s not the behemoth Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was, I think Convenience Store Woman shines a stark light on a fairly similar sensitive topic with the same amount of power and humour Gail Honeyman did.
Much like her main character, Murata is in her late thirties and works part-time in a convenience store. This is beautifully evident in her vivid descriptions of the store itself and the importance of it to Keiko. While most despise their workplace, Keiko eat, sleeps and breathes it. The convenience store is her home, the one place she feels as though she can find or at least mimic purpose and feel a sense of belonging. Murata truly gives life to the convenience store in her writing, turning this mundane, everyday building into a buzzing, vibrant, place of life.
I adored the character of Keiko. At times I felt protective of her, relating to her as an outsider and feeling a sense of pride at her ability to stand up for herself against a society desperate to drown her out and eliminate people with tendencies like Keiko’s. I’m incredibly interested to learn more about convenience store culture in Japan too!
After reading the darkly comic Convenience Store Woman, I am eager to read more from Sayaka Murata as I believe she’s such an exciting voice!