Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley
FAR EAST, SOUTH ASIA AND AUSTRALASIA
Convenience Store Woman (first published in 2016) is a quick and deceptively unchallenging read that reminded me of a Japanese Eleanor Oliphant. It has a straightforward, flowing style, which is very easy to engage with. I first read and reviewed this book in mid-2020, and I’m reposting as part of ‘Japanuary’ – my month of engagement with different aspects of Japanese culture.
Keiko, the narrator, is an outsider who has learnt to mask her true self (or lack of feeling of self) in order to fit in with society’s expectations. For almost two decades, since finishing her studies, she has worked part-time in a convenience store, mimicking the cadences and behaviour of other workers, fulfilling every stricture of the employees’ handbook and living according to a strict routine, heating food from the store for her evening meal.
“I couldn’t stop hearing the store telling me the way it wanted to be, what it needed. It was all flowing into me. It wasn’t me speaking. It was the store. I was just channelling its revelations from on high.”
Author Sayaka Murata was apparently inspired to write the novel by her own experience of working in a convenience store for many years. (I was surprised, in Keiko’s case, that she is described as working “part-time”, as she seems to be at work five days a week for many hours – but presumably average Japanese working hours are different to those here in the UK.)
Keiko perhaps has undiagnosed autism, although this is not made explicit. Despite being very socially awkward and having no real interest in other people, she has accumulated a few friends and acquaintances who she sees intermittently as part of a large group, and who begin to question her decision to work in the store without progressing for so long, and to show an uncomfortable interest in her permanent single status.
However, ultimately the story ends satisfactorily for Keiko, with an ending that celebrates, in a very non-polemical way, difference, being true to yourself and marching to the beat of your own drum.