Review for "Convenience Store Woman" by Sayaka Murata (2018) Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Wow, I loved this book! Deceptively simple story, yet subversive to the core.
As a child, Keiko Furukura recalls that she was always an odd person, attracting disgust for her behavior. She doesn’t understand these reactions (in her mind, her behavior is logical), but knows that to be a ‘normal’ person, she must change. This change is achieved when, as an 18-year-old student, she is “reborn” as a convenience store worker. Keiko finds that the routine and the monotony of the job is perfectly suited for her. She takes enthusiastic pride in her work: always on time, working extra shifts, keeping her body in perfect shape for store work, just as the store manual instructs her to do. Keiko’s love for her job goes beyond obsession–it is literally her religion, her only desire.
18 years later, Keiko is 36 and still working at her beloved convenient store. She has learned to appear ‘normal’ to friends and family by observing store colleagues and imitating their speech styles and dress. She finds it harder to field the concerns of friends and her sister, who don’t understand why, at her age, she has still not married or gotten a ‘proper’ job. Eventually Keiko does decide to go for ‘normal’ in her love life, and the results are not what she intended.
This is a short novel (about 163 pages), but it packs a helluva punch. There’s a lot being said here about Japanese society and its crushing conformity, social pressures, as well as the peculiarities of what’s considered ‘normal’ behavior. There’s also the self-confessed ‘strangeness’ of Keiko, whose behavior throughout the novel had all of the hallmarks of someone on the autism spectrum (in my opinion), though this is never named. It’s also a love story, not with a person but with the order and routines of retail work. Keiko takes to this lulling sense of sameness like a fish to water. Of course it makes sense that Keiko, who has no other desire but to be ‘normal,’ doesn’t want to do anything else but stock pork dumplings and set store displays five days a week. Of course.
Ya’ll have to read this book. I will go so far as to say that it’s probably one of the best reads I’ve read so far this summer. 4.5 stars.