Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

38357895Keiko 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?

Source Format Pages Publisher Genre Publication Date
Netgalley eARC 176 Portobello Books General Fiction (Adult) July 5th, 2018

 

I love book bloggers! I found out about this book on Ova’s blog Excuse My Reading and I knew I had to try and get my paws on it. Need I even ask you to, please, check out Ova’s brilliant blog? Of course not, because we’re book bloggers and we love each other! But, no, seriously- visit Ova’s blog!

This book enraged me. Not because I didn’t like it. It enraged me because it portrayed so perfectly and painfully the pressures of family, friends and society on someone who doesn’t fit into their definition of ‘normal’. How I dislike the word ‘normal’… I do!

Keiko is autistic? Perhaps, probably. I tried finding more background information about the book, about how Keiko was ‘born’ for the author but I didn’t get a firm answer to Keiko’s characteristics, so I am reluctant to box and label her no matter how clearly we are able to actually do so. In a way, even though Keiko is  clearly wired differently, not having a firm label on her person makes the book more interesting in the way that it takes away from the immediate ‘judgement’ the reader can excuse Keiko’s behaviour behind. Maybe even allows the reader to approach the whole book in a different light.. I don’t know. I am probably over analyzing here. Yes, Keiko acted in a truly black and white manner, but she also observed… she learned through observation only how to fit into this society and into her friends and family’s life whilst everyone close to her lashed at her with a million shades of pity, frustration and judgement. Keiko has intelligence and she applies efficiently it to her very person because she wants to belong. Keiko has a slightly wonky moral dial but she learns the boundaries. Keiko doesn’t feel like 95% of the people around her feel. She doesn’t do emotions and emotions don’t do her. It’s like a nature’s way of serving balance- if no one thinks you fit in, you can’t feel the ugly sadness of it all.

Anywhoo… as I said, over analyzing me thinks!

My family always loved and cherished me, and that’s why they were so worried and wanted to cure me. I recall hearing my parents discussing how to do this, and wondered what it was about me that needed correcting.

Keiko felt like she needed to be fixed and corrected from an early age so she developed coping mechanisms. To fit in. But then, when she turned 18 she got a job at a convenience store and Keiko was reborn. She fit in perfectly- a quick study on store standards, customer care and always an arms-length away from the rest of the society with her stock greetings and answers and tasks, Keiko had found her comfort zone.

The Convenience Store Woman is a truly intriguing book. It’s a character study of how someone is eaten and spit out by a society that flows in the unified direction of mainstream standards and how anyone who isn’t a proper ‘cog in the machine’ will be shunned until they squeeze themselves into that very same, suffocating box. Reading this book felt like one of those classics that hold within them a dystopian prophecy. A society described that sounds ominous and yet completely realistic. It is realistic, it’s happening…

I did find out on during my brief research about the book that the author took up a job at a store to aid with the writing of the store atmosphere. Well, she nailed it. Murata makes stores of any shape and size sound interesting.. I feel like I want to go and hang out in a shop just to see if I can recognize the patterns of tasks that have been tutored to the workers, to see if I can crack the hierarchy of workers…

A convenience store is a world of sound.

Anyone who’s ever worked at a customer-facing job will know that the world reveals all of its secrets when you see all of those people coming in, mingling, choosing, paying… It’s actually so fascinating because you can create a story about every one of these people… regulars, one offs. There is a million sides to one human being at any given day because everyone sees them differently at any given moment and as the book was in Keiko’s POV, it was easy to feel an emotional impact that words from co-workers and friends, family could potentially have. But all that Keiko had to truly rely on, a proven mehtod, was the ability to observe and translate emotions into facial expressions that she can use when appropriate. If someone made a face about being single t a certain age then that meant it was oh, so wrong for Keiko, too. Herd mentality. [insert a string of curses]

I was surprised when things turned up a notch for Keiko by introducing a love interest. Which wasn’t actually a love interest but well… again, think societal pressures and friends with husbands and babies and as you sit there in the middle of them without either you will be judged. For being less. For not doing your duty. For being a waste of space and clearly there is something fundamentally wrong with you…

What a pain I thought, wondering why everyone felt such a need for reassurance.

The cynical and bitter young man introduced into Keiko’s life flowed in the same vein as the start of the book- trying to understand, bow to and ‘do the right thing’ for family, for society. It made steam come out of my freaking ears. I wanted to tell everyone to piss right off and leave Keiko be… so she can life life the way she bloody well wants and feels good about. But that young man offered a different kind of contrast and conflict to the story and Keiko’s whirlwind of a life trying to just be a stock version of a human being. I will give nothing else away- this guy needs to be read about from the book to believe!

When you work in a convenience store, people often look down on you for working there. I find this fascinating, and I like to look them in the face when they do this to me. And as I do so I always think: that’s what a human is.

Convenience Store Woman is a simple story with a simple setting but what a profound meaning it has. It’s a treasure chest of mirror-images from humanity. What a truly magnificent way to take a stab at society. I mean, this is what I took away from the book for myself, anyway. It’s about that age-old question of what is ‘normal’ and if you’re in any way different that means you’re not fully valuable as a human being, that you’re lower than the rest of them. And you know what, all you judgemental characters from the book, if you didn’t have a convenience store you wouldn’t bloody well have your snacks and wine to go with your reality TV. Surprise, surprise, you still need someone to work at a store to lay all your choices out for you in neat rows or otherwise you wrinkle up your nose… And if you didn’t have hard working people in farms and fields, you wouldn’t have anything at all, so take it down a notch with your judgy eyes and disconnected uber-modern view of life in your ‘better than yours’, 9-5 routine-infested ‘normalcy’… (I told you this book stoked a fire in me!)

Find Convenience Store Woman on Goodreads ¦ Amazon UK ¦ USA

14 comments

  1. This is such a wonderful review. I hopped over to Netgalley as to our discussion on Goodreads, but it must have been a UK side offering only. I still have to look on Edelweiss. I’m hoping maybe Hoopla will get it after it’s been out for a bit. Thanks for the heads up, though, because it is definitely my jam! 👍✨

    Liked by 1 person

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