Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Guest Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
First published in Japanese in Japan in July 2016. English language translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori published by Grove Press today, the 12th June 2018.

Guest Review by Kate Vane:
Today's guest review is by Devon author Kate Vane. I've enjoyed three of Kate's novels (my reviews here) including her most recent, Brand New Friend, so was intrigued to discover a book that Kate herself recommends.

Kate Vane is an author of (mostly) crime and suspense. She has written for BBC drama Doctors and has had short stories and articles published in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday. She mainly reads crime and literary fiction with some non-fiction and is a recent convert to audiobooks.
If you check out Kate's blog it has features on writing, publishing and all things bookish as well as the occasional podcast review

Kate's rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £11.62 (PB)
Wordery : from £11.56 (PB)
Waterstones : from £12.99 (PB)
Amazon : from $11.26 / £11.34 (PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers' style of dress and speech patterns so that she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life, but is aware that she is not living up to society's expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko's contented stasis, but will it be for the better?

Sayaka Murata brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. With some laugh-out-loud moments prompted by the disconnect between Keiko's thoughts and those of the people around her, she provides a sharp look at Japanese society and the pressure to conform, as well as penetrating insights into the female mind. Convenience Store Woman is a fresh, charming portrait of an unforgettable heroine that recalls Banana Yoshimoto, Han Kang, and Amélie

Kate says: This intriguing short novel builds slowly but is worth the wait. It is the story of Keiko, the convenience store worker of the title. She is a committed employee who has done the same routine tasks for eighteen years with enthusiasm and diligence.

Keiko is aware that she does not feel as other people do. She does not understand the expectations of society but is conscientious in mimicking the people around her. wearing the right clothes, showing the right facial expressions and saying the right things.

Keiko comes under a lot of pressure to have a career or a husband or, ideally, both. She does not understand why this matters so much to other people but is careful not to criticise their expectations. Her conformity is enabled by her sister, who is aware of Keiko’s difference but eager to conceal it.

Keiko’s life changes when Shiraha begins to work at the convenience store. He too has failed to meet society’s expectations, but rather than adapting, he is angry. He sees himself as a victim and believes it is always someone else, never himself, that is to blame for his problems.

This book has such a lovely voice and a subtle, understated humour. It asks interesting questions about what it is to conform and to belong. On the one hand, Keiko’s complete acceptance of the terms of a low-paid, demanding job might feel like exploitation, but on the other she shows strength in constructing a life on her own terms.

While the pressure for a woman to marry is perhaps greater in Japan than in the West (embarrassing aunties at your sister’s wedding notwithstanding) it does raise questions about what pressures we do accept without question, and how we look at those who choose not to belong.

The people around Keiko, even those who claim to care for her, are only interested in the surface. Keiko struggles to understand the feelings of others, but they have not even tried to understand hers, assuming that her needs are the same as society’s.

Keiko is both charming and subversive. When as a child she asked why it is wrong to eat a dead bird found in the park, but alright to buy a dead bird to eat from the supermarket, she showed more logic than most adults. Many of her perceptions are quite sensible, even though she is the one who her friends believe is in need of a ‘cure’.

Convenience Store Woman is an engaging story and its simple, spare prose asks some deceptively complex questions.


Kate received a copy of Convenience Store Woman from the publisher via NetGalley.

Thank you Kate!

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Books by Sayaka Murata / Contemporary fiction / Books from Japan

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