My rating: 3 stars
The light-heartedness with which the state of mind and challenges faced by the main character and narrator of Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata are addressed makes this short book an endearing story at first. It explores the pressure to conform to what society deems expected of people, particularly women, in various stages of life. Some of the later occurrences seem too far-fetched, though.
Keiko Furukura, a convenience store worker, grew up in a loving family. But when she was at primary school, she kept getting in trouble because of her way of reacting to things. Once she found a dead bird and, instead of burying it, she wanted to cook it. Another time, in order to stop two children fighting, she hit one of them with a spade. Afterwards, she decided to speak as little as possible to avoid problems.
She started working at the convenience store when she was still at university and has been there since the day it opened. For the first time she felt like part of society. She is now 36 years old and none of her initial colleagues work there anymore. Her parents would love for her to have another job, but she feels that she can only act like a “normal” person when all she has to do is follow the manual she was given during the initial training. She also tries to speak like her colleagues and copies the dressing style of the one that is almost her age. It’s at the convenience store that Keiko feels at home.
“Even when I’m far away, the convenience store and I are connected. In my mind’s eye I picture the brightly lit and bustling store, and I silently stroke my right hand, its nails neatly trimmed in order to better work the buttons on the cash register.”
Although Keiko had no friends while at school, she now occasionally hangs out with two of her former colleagues, whom she met again later in life. They wonder why she has never had a boyfriend. But Keiko has never considered it, nor does it bother her to have never been in love. The pressure to act as it is expected of her leads her to complicated situations, though.
There are various humorous moments throughout the book and its setting comes to life as soon as the first page. The descriptions of the sounds heard in the store immediately transport readers to the main setting of the story and we become part of Keiko’s life, while she tries to fit in and muses on how people, subconsciously or not, end up copying those around them.
Later in the book, some events involving Shiraha, a misogynistic, idiotic man, seem too exaggerated, however. It may have been a conscious decision by Sayaka Murata to highlight the ridiculousness of some of the expectations placed on women and how forcibly trying to conform may not lead to a worthy outcome, but the story stopped being as endearing as before.
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, Convenience Store Woman raises interesting issues in a humorous and carefree way that is engrossing despite the book’s flaws.