I was intrigued to read Convenience Store Woman, a book which I had heard a lot about with it being well received by readers as well as being the recipient of literary prizes. Written by bestselling author Sayaka Murata, and translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, it is a quirky tale which tells the story of a woman who does not fit in with the crowd.
Keiko is a thirty-six year old woman who for half of her life has worked part time in a convenience store. Having worked in the same place for eighteen years Keiko has a special bond with her store, and from the opening pages it is clear that to Keiko this is more than just a job, and more than just a store. She takes pride in her work, and ensuring things go smoothly, with a methodical approach to shop keeping that keeps her, her co-workers and her customers happy. However, there is a pressure from outside Keiko’s world that threatens the life that is well suited to her. It is here that the story explores aspects of modern life and society’s expectations of human existence with regard to furthering careers or starting families in order to be considered ‘normal’. Keiko’s parents wonder when she will move on to a better job, thinking that her role in the store was just the first step on her career ladder, whilst friends express concern over her lack of a partner, wondering if she will be married, or become a mother.
Convenience Store Woman is a quirky story that features a blend of humour and melancholy and I quickly became immersed in Keiko’s world. And this was a world that felt very authentic and I was interested to read that Murata, like her protagonist, spent eighteen years working in a convenience store so there was definitely an authentic voice to the characters and their interactions throughout. I was drawn to Keiko as a character, and felt empathy towards her and the way she was perceived by those around her. There is a sadness to her story, and the way in which she was told that she didn’t fit in, when perhaps, she never wanted to. It was a story that made me think about the complexity of life and the way in which there are expectations to follow a particular path or to reach a certain milestone in order to be considered a valued part of society. And as we see Keiko’s circumstances change, and the prospect of a life for her outside of the safety of her store, we see a woman who despite not fitting in, was content with what was in front of her, and in maintaining the order of the convenience store.
Convenience Store Woman is an entertaining and unusual read that explores some interesting themes with humour and heart.