Are you looking for an eccentric, earnest, and darkly offbeat novel to read for the dog days of summer? I devoured Convenience Store Woman like a melting popsicle outside my local convenience store, and I think you will too.
Convenience Store Woman is Sayaka Murata’s first book translated in English, and it won the highly prestigious Japanese literary award, the Akutagawa Prize in 2016.
We meet Keiko, a woman in her mid 30’s who has worked at a convenience store for the past 18 years. She’s not the most popular, but she has a few friends. She doesn’t have much of an interest in romance or partners, but is keenly aware of how much she “should” care.
Her family and friends badger her on when she’s going to get a “real” job, or settle down with a husband, but unlike other environments, she understands and thrives in her role as a convenience store clerk. She knows what to say, what to do, and feels purposeful in her role as a clerk. She “becomes one” with the store and as uncanny as it can be at times, it’s a fascinating look into the mind of someone obsessed with their work – particularly work that is so undervalued.
At the same time, she worries because she knows her decision to work at a convenience store is considered not “ambitious” enough, even though it suits her perfectly. One day, Shihara, another nonconformist – and mildly sexist 30-something year old man – begins working at the store, and they strike an unlikely deal that unravels Keiko’s understanding of herself and the world around her.
Keiko has always struggled with being “normal” in social interactions, but she learns from a young age what’s acceptable after doing and saying some bizarre things. She learns what will keep her under the radar, and in doing so, lives a double internal life constantly questioning the world around her.
Keiko is very to the point, but she is so funny, lovable, and self-aware. She sees the ebb and flow of co-workers coming and going, the rhythm of peoples’ days getting their daily coffees and snacks, and so much more. I loved seeing the world through Keiko’s eyes: full of detail and biting clarity.
The writing and description of the food and the routines is intoxicating, and so different from what we may expect of convenience stores in Canada.
I highly recommend Convenience Store Woman! It’s an unconventional tale, but still deeply relatable. It’s simultaneously an easy read while still being intellectually stimulating on what it means to be a person, a woman and a worker in our world. We all want to be seen, loved, and accepted as we are – sometimes it just looks a little different.
– Jackie M.