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3.10.18

Book Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata




Meet Keiko.


Keiko is 36 years old. She's never had a boyfriend, and she's been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years.



Keiko's family wishes she'd get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won't get married.



But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she's not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store...





'Irasshaimase!'

Convenience Store worker Keiko is happy with her life. She has had the same job for the past eighteen years, lives alone (well, if you don't count the bugs in her closet...) and has no desire to ever get married or start a family. She is content, or at least what she imagines contentedness would feel like. She doesn't really have any 'feelings' of her own and struggles with how she is expected to behave around other people, and with what she is expected to say. Therefore she tends to adopt other peoples turn of phrases and finds herself saying what she thinks other people expect to hear.

Keiko is a constant worry to her family and her work colleagues and friends are bemused by her. How can she be happy living out her days working part time in a convenience store? Surely there will come a day where Keiko is ready to conform to social 'norms'...But Keiko doesn't seem so sure...

I was massively intrigued by this book when I saw it sitting prettily on the shelf at Waterstones. Its cover is bright and eye-catching and there's something very unusual about the design...The picture of the name badge pops off the page giving it an almost 3D effect which I loved.
It was definitely the cover that initially drew me to this book (Side note: the hardback cover is cute but not quite as quirky as the paperback) but the fascinating concept behind the story was what really enticed me into reading Convenience Store Woman.


A seemingly simplistic story, but one which proves to be much more in-depth once you start reading. 
I liked Keiko and I was also fascinated by her. Her difficulty conforming to social norms was something which was present since childhood, but the way in which she coped with life as an adult was both unsettling and insightful in equal measure. Keiko understandably felt the need to blend in with her colleagues and would set out to copy their speech and mannerisms and repeat them. Whilst this may be something that is odd at first thought, it did make me think - isn't this something we all do anyway? I know that I find myself picking up twangs of people I spend a lot of time with. I even catch myself repeating phrases that my partner uses - but perhaps the difference is that I'm doing this subconsciously, whereas Keiko actively does it because she feels as though she doesn't know how to speak and behave 'correctly'. I did find myself warming to her, but some of the thoughts she experiences during the story did unnerve me, so as much as I wanted to like her, I found myself more intrigued by her than anything else.


Speaking and behaving 'correctly' brings me on to the whole theme that the book centers around; what exactly does it mean to be 'normal'? Why is it that you have to get married, have children, earn lots of money (or at least want to...) to be considered normal? Who makes those rules? Who is to say you can't just be happy working in a job that was simple but made you happy whilst living on your own? Keiko wasn't hurting anyone, she wasn't doing anything wrong in not wanting the things in life that everyone is told they should want. So why can't society just leave her to it? 

I loved what Convenience Store life meant to Keiko. It was the familiarity, having rules to follow, having a routine which never changes, knowing exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it, and even having a script to follow. ("Yes madam. Right away madam.") There was a manual for working in Smile Mart...Something which sadly doesn't accompany real life. 

Whilst Keiko's family have grown to tolerate her lack of ambition, they are still hopeful that one day she will fall in love. 
The arrival of new colleague Shiraha at the Smile Mart looks set trigger significant change in Keiko's life...but not in a 'she-finally-falls-in-love-and-lives-happily-ever-after-romantic' way) Absolutely not. Shiraha is a pretty horrible human being; bossy, controlling and incredibly selfish - yet he seems to be experiencing a similar problem to Keiko in that he isn't meeting any of the standards set by society and is therefore failing miserably at life. He has never been in love, he can't hold down a decent job - and, like Keiko, he finds himself not wanting to live a 'normal' life anyway.
The pair concoct a plan that makes perfect sense to them both and appears to be the solution to quieten down the criticisms of those closest to them.




Considering this book is only 163 pages long, there is so much to say about it. It is dark, unnerving, daring and completely unlike anything I have read before. If you're interested in the human psyche then you will both love and be fascinated by this book. It offers so much, yet is such a simple story. Beautifully translated, I believe that this book fully deserves all of the praise that is has been receiving. Refreshing,  yet powerfully weird, Convenience Store Woman is one of the must-read novels of 2018.

Convenience Store Woman is available in paperback and on Kindle.

6 comments:

  1. Wonderful review, I'm going to have to check this one out!

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  2. I like the sound of this one - I wants it

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  3. This sounds really good. Fab review.

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  4. Great review, this one looks and sounds very intriguing I am really curious to check it out one day, thank you so much for sharing your awesome post and for putting this book on my radar.

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  5. Great review. I love short books as I can normally read them in one sitting. It does sound amazing.

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