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.