Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata - Book Review

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata - Book Review

This book was my first foray into contemporary Japanese fiction, and it definitely made me want to read more! This book is only around 160 pages and as the cover suggests, it's bright, quirky, and entertaining - a great way to spend an afternoon.

We follow Keiko, a single woman entering her middle age and working at a convenience store, as she battles - and is baffled by - society's expectations. And those expectations aren't subtle hints given by well-placed adverts, they're said right to her face by everyone around her: her colleagues at the convenience store, her friends, and her own family. They all think her lifestyle is pretty odd. It might be forgivable that she isn't married if she had a high flying career - but to be single and only work in a convenience store?

Keiko definitely has a very matter-of-fact way of looking at things, and it's reflected in the writing style. It's pretty plain, lets you know what's happening without too much description or flowery language, but I really enjoyed the simplicity - it gets right to the point. I've heard people suggest Keiko may be autistic and I can defnitely see that, she takes things quite literally and struggles to understand the nuances of social interaction. But this makes her the perfect narrator! She's both able to point out the ridiculousness of these expectations, as well as provide a funny and endearing narrative.

I think that's what I really love about this book - she does nothing more than describe the people around her plainly and factually, and that's enough to make them look ridiculous. Whether it's the inane small talk of her coworkers, the pitying looks from her married friends who feel bad for single Keiko, or the embarrassment her sister feels to have a sibling who only works in a convenience store, she's able to look at the world almost as if from a step back and think - why is any of this important?

Of course, the fact that she doesn't fully understand what people want from her, combined with her desire to please those around her, leads to some interesting things. She doesn't really get her sister's frustration when, after Keiko tells her she's now living with a man, she comes for a visit and realises she actually just living with a man. Isn't that what she wanted?

Ultimately, the book doesn't push any boundaries or share clever new ideas about the world. Societal expectations, particularly those put on women, and how ridiculous they are is a topic that isn't particularly new to me. It might be something that's newer when it comes to Japanese fiction, but I don't know it well enough to be able to say. It did make me think about the topic again, and it did discuss it in a very interesting and entertaining way. So although it didn't give me any new ideas, it was funny, clever, and charming, and I very much enjoyed reading it.

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