Wondering whether or not to pick up Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata? This Convenience Store Woman book review will help you decide!
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori) is an international bestseller that was first translated into English in 2018. It’s Murata’s first novel to be translated into English but it most certainly won’t be the last! This story took the literary world by storm and over 1.5 million copies have been sold.
Convenience Store Woman Summary
Keiko is 36 years old. She’s never had a boyfriend, and she’s been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years.
Keiko’s family wishes she’d get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won’t get married.
But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she’s not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store…
Convenience Store Woman Review
Convenience Store Woman is one of the most famous pieces of translated Japanese fiction today and I absolutely loved it. It’s short and bittersweet but I found the story and writing so compelling that I read this in one sitting.
It follows the story of Keiko, a 36-year-old, single, female, Japanese convenience store worker. She’s perfectly content with her life as it is but comments from friends, family and coworkers make her question whether her way of life and mannerisms are “normal”.
They expect her to have a career, to get married, to have children, but Keiko has no real interest in any of those things and doesn’t understand that that’s what society expects of her.
Keiko has been filtering her thoughts and actions since she was a child and generally holds back her true reactions as she’s learnt (though doesn’t understand why) they’re often unacceptable.
She copies her coworkers’ way of speaking, dressing and acting and notices that she is accepted more quickly if she does this.
Through Keiko’s story, we get a glimpse into how society would perceive such a woman and what is deemed “normal”. And it’s not pretty.
The people in Keiko’s life frequently talk about “curing” her and become excited about her life when she says she’s living with a man.
Society, as portrayed in this story, suggests that we perhaps aren’t as progressive as we’d like to believe.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we’re still in the Stone Ages as the character Shiraha suggests, but there is sadly some truth to his horrid ramblings about the place of men and women in the world today.
One major issue I had is that this book is often described as funny, quirky and weird. Indeed, many famous authors and publications have been quoted saying this on the cover of the book.
It seems to me that these reviews fail to take into account that the protagonist is likely on the spectrum and that calling her “funny” and “quirky” is deeply harmful.
It’s never explicitly stated that Keiko is autistic but it is widely thought that this is the case based on how she is described.
I think East Asian culture is often depicted as “weird” by Westerners and these reviewers perpetuate those stereotypes instead of considering this particular character’s condition and digging into the underlying meaning of this short text. It’s disappointing to say the least.
All in all, I’d highly recommend Convenience Store Woman to fans of Japanese literature and feminist fiction. The author critiques society’s obsession with arbitrary milestones (graduate, find a career, get married, have children), and the idea of “normalcy”.
Whilst there is little overt commentary from the author on Keiko’s situation or the comments from the other people in her life, there is enough to make this a thought-provoking read about society’s standards and how empty they are.
What’s more, anyone who has been to Japan will recognise the convenience store described in this book as they are everywhere in Japan. During my visit to Japan, this was where I’d buy breakfast, a bottle of water, a late-night snack. There was always something that drew me into them.
Author Sayaka Murata was herself a convenience store woman when she was not busy writing, so it’s no wonder she depicts the Japanese convenience store so vividly! And amazingly, the success of her story Convenience Store Woman meant that she could quit her job in the convenience store to pursue writing full time.
Convenience Store Woman Themes
- What it means to be “normal”
- Societal pressure
- The place of women in society
Have you read Convenience Store Woman? What did you think of it?
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