Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

A quirky, unsettling and thought provoking read about Keiko, a convenience store worker, who has spent her life conforming to society’s expectations of what it means to be “normal.”

Keiko began working at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart at the age of eighteen. Watching the induction video on how to greet customers, Keiko adopted the convenience store worker persona with enthusiasm; she had now become a normal cog in society after spending her childhood as an outsider, due to some abnormal quirks: When a bird was found dead in the park, Keiko suggested eating it to her horrified mother and classmates. When two children were fighting, she hit one of them on the head with a shovel to make them stop.
Her childhood was peppered with these incidents; each one leaving a mark of  shame and embarrassment on her normal family.
To avoid disappointing her family, Keiko learned to carefully conceal these idiosyncrasies. She stayed quiet, got a job and adopted the mannerisms of the people around her. Now accepted by society, her family were happy.

Fast forward to the age of 36 and Keiko is still that same convenience store worker. She has no desire to climb the corporate ladder, meet a husband or start a family. Society has noticed this, deemed it strange, and now she is back into the role of the outsider; regardless of her contentment in her own life.
The story of Convenience Store Woman is Keiko’s attempt to normalise herself in order to be accepted by society once again.

Sayaka Murata has expertly created the world of a convenience store so vivid that one can almost hear the ping of the automatic door. Her writing style is direct, blunt and often coy; she withholds just enough detail for the reader to ponder over the missing information. As a result we instinctively fill the gaps in Keiko’s story and “helpfully” pass our own judgement; much like the characters do to her in the book, and very much like we as a society do today.

This story shows how far we will go to meet the social expectations of friends, family and even strangers. And how it is more acceptable to be normal and unhappy, than to be abnormal and completely content with your life.

This is the tenth novel by Murata but the first to be translated into English. Hopefully, with its success, we will see more English translations in the future as I am eager to read more of her work.

Rating: I give this book a 4 out of 5. Read it in three hours. Dying for a sequel. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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