Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata: A review

 

I was so disturbed by the last book of Sayaka Murata's that I read, Earthlings, that it put me off reading this one. Consequently, this little gem had languished in my TBR stack for almost a year. But this is a new year and, determined to clear out my backlog of books to be read, I picked it up and began to read. Now I'm wondering why it took me so long.

Eighteen-year-old Keiko Furukura has never fit in anywhere, not in her family and not in school, because she has never been able to comprehend the rules of social interaction. She comes to understand that "The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of. So that's why I need to be cured. Unless I'm cured, normal people will expurgate me." She thinks of herself as that "foreign object" that needs to be "cured." She apprehends that in order to survive she needs to be able to mimic the social exchanges of those "normal" people. 

Her salvation comes when she finds a job at the local branch of the Smile Mart convenience store. At the store, she has a manual to guide her behavior. That manual lays out step by step, line by line, how she is supposed to behave with people. For the first time in her life, she becomes one of the team and finds purpose and contentment. 

She is so contented that she stays in that job for eighteen years. At age thirty-six though, her family as well as her coworkers at the store are expecting her to find a husband, settle down, and raise a family. And once again Keiko is facing the dilemma of trying to meet society's expectations.

Around this time, the store hires another one of society's misfits, a man who admits that he only took the job because his family is pressuring him to get married and he needs to search for a wife. He hates the store and is lackadaisical about the duties assigned to him with the predictable result that he is soon dismissed. Keiko who loves and identifies with the store cannot understand his attitude. But she needs a boyfriend in order to get her family off her back and so she and the man come to a mutually beneficial, if platonic, arrangement. So, how does it all work out? You'll have to read the book.

That won't take long because it is a short book, less than 200 pages. Quirky doesn't even begin to describe it! It really is a sweet story of the struggle of a person with a different psyche to understand what it is that society wants and expects from her. It's a sentiment that I think a lot of us can probably identify with. Haven't we all felt like misfits from time to time? The tone of the book is satirical and wry and as well as being a personal story, it seems to be a commentary on class and gender inequity in Japan and the problems that that engenders. Society values conformity and, as Keiko observed, it doesn't tolerate "foreign objects."

An interesting side note is that the author wrote this book while she herself was working in a convenience store, and, apparently, she still works there part-time. Since the work helped to inspire this wonderful little book, I'd say it is time well-spent.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Comments

  1. I enjoyed this book too, and was glad to read your review to refresh my memory. I remember that Keiko was unusual in wanting to live such a private and it seemed to me, isolating, life. My impression of Japan is that there are probably more than a few persons with this kind of outlook and lifestyle. Just dropping out, as the rest of the society would see it. I remember a less than satisfying ending, for Keiko, that is. I'll look the book up to reread it.

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    1. I think you'll find it holds up well on rereading.

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  2. It's hard for me to believe sometimes that the same woman wrote both Convenience Store Woman and Earthlings. Like you, I was so put off by Earthlings that I haven't considered reading her again. I experienced the two books in the opposite order that you experienced them...so I'm happy that you gave her another chance. Convenience Store Woman really impressed me.

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    1. They are vastly different books in tone. However, they are both about misfits in society and about essentially platonic relationships between men and women. I, too, am glad that I finally succumbed to this book.

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  3. If I remember correctly, I read Sam's review of this book and that encouraged me to read it. I'm glad I did. Not only have I spent large swaths of my life feeling like a misfit, but I also spent many years in the retail field. I identified with Keiko on many levels.

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    1. She's a very sympathetic character, easy to identify with and easy to like. We want her to be happy.

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  4. I've heard such good things about this book...thanks for reminding me about it! I'm putting it on my 2022 reading list right now. :D

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  5. everyone is a misfit in some respect; i've been amazed in the last 70 years to see that people actually get along with each other... sometimes...

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  6. Glad you loved this as much as I did Dorothy. Earthlings got a 4/5 from me - definitely a bit disturbing. BTW - The author has a new book of short stories (dark) coming out in 2022. I believe it is called Life Ceremony!

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    1. She seems to specialize in dark themes, doesn't she?

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  7. I reviewed this book in November 2020. I enjoyed it as well.

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    1. I think your review was one that led me to put it on my TBR list.

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  8. That does sound really interesting, quirky is good sometimes!

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    1. When it comes to books - and cats! - I find very often that quirky is good.

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  9. I enjoyed this one, too. I won't be reading Earthlings though!

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  10. You probably liked this one a bit more than I did. Though it makes good points about societal norms … and gender roles, which I liked, I couldn't seem to get overly excited about the story. And the guy she gets with near the end is pretty repugnant. Is the woman a bit autistic? Still I could relate to her hard working hours in retail.

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    1. My impression of the character was that she was definitely on the autism spectrum which made it difficult for her to understand how society works. The guy she hooked up with was entirely repulsive but she saw him as a way to get everyone off her back about marriage.

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