January 23, 2020
Convenience Store Woman
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori
2018 Grove Press
Finished on January 21, 2020
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)
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.
My dear friend Meredith (of Dolce Bellezza) has been hosting a Japanese Literature challenge for the past 13 years. Every year I consider participating in this event, but I have to admit it's not a genre I particularly care for. Prior to reading Convenience Store Woman, I think the only other translated Japanese book that I've read is Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. I was disappointed with both of these books, not quite understanding their large appeal. While perusing the reviews on Goodreads for Convenience Store Woman, I was surprised to see so many 4 and 5 star ratings. Not only did readers love this novel, but they thought it was brilliant! I scrolled and scrolled, searching for a 1 or 2 star rating, but they were few and far between. I am definitely in the minority on this one. The dialogue was unrealistic and stilted and the premise of the story was unsettling and ridiculous. After a dozen or so pages, I grew bored and impatient to finish. Had it not been such a short book, I would have given up halfway through.
Click here to read Bellezza's thoughts on this novel.