Title : Convenience Store Woman
Author : Sayaka Murata
Translator : Ginny Taplet Takemori
Publisher : Portobello Books
Year of Publication : June 27th 2018, Portobello Books
Pages : Paperback, 163 pages
Rate : 4.5/5
Keiko Furukara found her first part-time job at the convenience store when she was eighteen. It was not because her family was poor or could not afford her living expenses, but just simply to make them stop worrying about her who cannot fit in the society.
Now, Keiko is a 36-year-old woman and is still working at the same convenience store. For her, a convenience store gives a sense of peace and a guide to be normal in this world. She mimics everybody around her, like how her fellow store worker wears and how they talk, so instantly she follows all orders on the manual book and becomes normal.
“When I first started here, there was a detailed manual that taught me how to be a store worker, and I still don’t have a clue how to be a normal person outside that manual.” —-Convenience Store Woman, page 90
However, in her family and her circle, Keiko is still being looked down on as someone who needs to be “cured”. Questioning about what kind of future that somebody can have for an unmarried woman who does not have a stable paid job. But, what kind of manual that she needs to follow and who is the one creates the manual?
“Convenience Store Woman” is the first novel of Sayaka Murata that I read, and also the first novel that I am (finally) able to finish in 2022. The summary on the back book cover does not tell much about the plot line itself, since I did not check the Goodreads page like I used to be, but I must say this book gives a fresh start, it is witty, quirky, and a bit comical in the beginning. Especially when Sayaka Murata started to explain a brief introduction about our main character, Keiko Furukara.
Keiko Furukara was described as a misfit, she thinks differently, even during the early age. She did not share any empathy with her friends in kindergarten; when someone is supposed to be crying, she simply cannot relate with those experiences. Later, when she grew older, she found The Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart as the sanctuary where she dedicated her life.
The choice of making a convenience store as Keiko Furukara’s main job is very interesting. In Japan, society forces you to find a job directly after you graduate from university and embody that job title as your long-life identity. However, the job itself refers to an occupation like a salaryman or other that assigned you to sit behind the table and work with the computer. Then, how about a job at the convenience store? Store work is labelled as a part-time job, which does not give you any benefit or stable salary, rather than spending your time stacking shelves and ordering green tea. When somebody refers to a menial job, like store worker as her life-time aspiration—she does not follow the “manual” of how this society is supposed to be, so she needs to be “cured”.
“The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of. So that’s why I need to be cured. Unless I’m cured, normal people will expurgate me.” —Convenience Store Woman, page 80
From the word “convenience store”, which is a very ordinary thing that you will always encounter in daily life, Sayaka Murata gives the reader a deeper understanding of how the society around her works and she definitely has a word to gush about that issue. Through the eyes of Keiko, she uses the theme of asexuality to question the standards society typically expects from citizens. For me, Sayaka Murata is a real genius, to weave in those taboo issues, in the mundane life of a woman who works at a convenience store.
It was mentioned in the author introduction page, that Sayaka Murata was 38-year-old at that time and was working at a convenience store. Therefore, to be able to read on how she described the work itself, is so mesmerising. For us, who always come to the convenience store, we never have a chance to gaze and to know how big the effort that those store workers need to put to prepare the shelves everyday. The word “convenience” per se also does not come without any reason, as the store worker, Keiko always pays her attention to the weather forecast, to understand the needs of her loyal customers and predict how many stock of green tea or cold beverages that need to be stored in the fridge. It was just as simple as that, but it somehow creates the word “convenience” itself. When we drop by the store during a hot summer day, and find a pile of cold beverages in the fridge, it eases up our day. A small important gesture that is usually being looked down upon by people with a stable-paid job.
Well, as a conclusion, I will say I did not expect to finish this book within hours. However this is a surprisingly genius book. For the millennial out there (also me), the reason why this book is very interesting is because of the sense of similarity between the world in Keiko’s story and how the society starts to become around us.