‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman

Fiction – paperback; Portobello Books; 163 pages; 2018. Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori

If someone derives satisfaction from their job, if they are highly motivated to do it well, does it matter if that job offers no prospect of promotion?

Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman poses this question in an oblique way. It also asks what is normal? And challenges many assumptions about how people choose to live their lives.

Narrated by 38-year-old Keiko, it tells the story of a single woman who has worked at the same convenience store since it first opened 18 years ago.

But while Keiko is happy in her role — she’s dedicated, efficient and diligent, always putting the store before herself, with no social life of which to speak  — her family are worried about her lack of ambition. They also fret that she’s never had a boyfriend and is unlikely to get married.

“Well, how are you?” my mother went on. “You spend all day on your feet, Keiko. It must be tiring. Um, how have things been lately? What’s new?”
Hearing her pry like this, I got the feeling that somehow she was still hoping for some kind of new development in my life. She was probably a bit tired of how I hadn’t progressed in eighteen years.

Eventually Keiko finds a radical solution to her family’s concerns and asks an ex-coworker to move in with her under the pretence he is her new boyfriend. While it gets her married sister off her back, it poses a whole new set of problems.

Odd one out

Written in a deadpan style, free from adjectives and full of quirky observations, mainly about human behaviour and societal expectations, Convenience Store Woman is a quick, witty and quietly profound read about what it is to be different and a little at odds with the rest of the world.

On the surface it feels absurd, slightly unnatural, but underneath it has a very human heart. I liked it a lot and was charmed by Keiko’s steadfast determination to do her own thing.

I’m not the only one who enjoyed this novella: Tony, from Tony’s Book World, has reviewed it favourably, too.

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16 thoughts on “‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata

  1. This sounds like a charming book! And perfect for those of us who are sick of having our parents nag us to be more ambitious. what’s wrong with being satisfied with what you already have?

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    • Well, I guess it’s always nice to challenge yourself and try new things and attempt to make something of yourself, but if you’re really happy then there’s probably no need… right?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like the sound of this. It was already on my radar but your opening paragraph has convinced me that I need to read this sooner rather than later, as that is the exact argument I am currently having with my boss 😀

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  3. It’s an interesting point, that most workers just want to be good at their jobs. Promotion is a white collar thing, and stressing about it is certainly why white collars and I parted company. I wonder if deadpan is a Japanese thing or if it is an effect of translation.

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    • I think you’re spot on about promotion being a white collar thing… As for the deadpan thing, from all the Japanese novels I’ve read — all listed here: https://readingmattersblog.com/category/setting/japan/ — I’d say it’s a Japanese thing. Deadpan may not be quite the right word… it’s more stripped back, barely an adjective used and almost pedestrian, which makes it sound quite boring, but I like reading Japanese novels. They make terrific palate cleansers after I’ve read a string of rich “literary” novels — they are super easy to read when you’ve got a tired / overworked brain!

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  6. I loved it as well. Like Catcher in the Rye (a little bit) it points out the flaws of society through a “flawed” character. Only, she wasn’t all that flawed to me. She had preferences that were a bit odd, and I know she resembles those with Asberger’s syndrome, but there were so many parts of her that were spot on. I mean, if you like work, and you like living alone, you should pursue those things. Even if they aren’t for everybody.

    Seeing the convenience stores in Japan was especially fun after reading this book. Did you know there are about 60,000 of them scattered throughout Japan? Or, that fresh food is brought in about every four hours? I had no idea! I had been (foolishly) likening them to a 7 Eleven here in the States.

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    • Yes, I was convinced she was on the autism spectrum somewhere, but then that made me question my own prejudices about what is “normal” and what is not. Fascinating to hear about the convenience stores in Japan; I too thought they were like 7-11s, but it sounds like they’re a bit more sophisticated than that.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Michael, which I’ve just dug out of moderation. It’s a really intriguing book and it’s so short and written in such a simple style it can easily be read in a couple of hours. I hope you get to try it.

      Liked by 1 person

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