Book review: Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata
Updated: Apr 7, 2021
Sayaka Murata’s tenth novel, Convenience Store Woman, is another not-so-new title that dug its claws into my head and demanded to be written about.
Published in Japan in 2016, Convenience Store Woman is Murata’s first novel to be translated into English (her second, Earthlings, was released in 2020 and will no doubt be showing up here soon).
The book’s main character and narrator, Keiko, is a 36-year-old convenience store worker, who enjoys her work and takes satisfaction in the precise order and smooth running of her store, much to the surprise of many patronising friends and relatives, who find it impossible to believe that a woman her age could be content with a career in a convenience store – or, more shockingly, content to be single.
Keiko, puzzled by the behaviour of those around her, and ever so slightly psychopathic herself, finds purpose and structure in her work at the store, and delights in the minutiae of store life – the correct restocking of shelves, and procedurally correct interactions with customers.
Nevertheless, Keiko eventually flirts with conformity by allowing the misogynist Shiraha – who has recently been sacked from the store – to move in with her. She feeds and accommodates him, in the belief that his presence will give her existence a veneer of normality in the eyes of other people. I’ll let you read the book to find out how this works out for both of them.
The tone of Murata’s writing evokes the artificial luminescence of a real convenience store, and the story itself stands as a critique of societal expectations in Japan (but entirely applicable elsewhere), particularly those placed upon women.
Convenience Store Woman definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the quirkiness and originality of the narrator’s voice, not to mention its humour, made this short novel one of my most memorable reads in recent years.