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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman (2016)

by Sayaka Murata

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (10)  German (3)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a new short novel by a Japanese writer. It is clean, short sentences, refreshing. It is the story of a single woman in Tokyo who at the age of eighteen begins working part time at a convenience store. She stays there for eighteen years and derives her identity and self image from the store. A store where turnover of staff is high, she remains for almost two decades. The story feels Japanese in the strong urge to conform of the main character as well as others. Her friends don't seem to be able to accept that she is unmarried and without children. That makes her somewhat alien in this conformist society. She eventually allows a man, a loser to live with her in her tiny apartment to make it look that she is conforming, though they have no sexual relations and she has never had a sexual relation which makes her friends uncomfortable. It is a bit of a weird book but very satisfying. I highly recommend it. ( )
  SigmundFraud | Sep 12, 2018 |
This is an understated gem of a novella. What does it mean to be different, to see the world from a different perspective than "normal people? Meet a woman who seeks a sense of being like other people, making use of conversational styles, fashion styles, and more gleaned from people around her. Only in the convenience store does she feel secure. What do each of us do to fit in? The story is quirky, fast-paced, poignant, and thought provoking. Read it! ( )
  hemlokgang | Sep 7, 2018 |
Novel about a Japanese convenience store clerk (for 18 years) who could never assimilate herself in society as a "normal" human being. She worked at the store during college and found her niche. Her family tried to help her as a child but nothing worked. It's really a quirky, sweet, poignant and sometimes funny book. She adopts other people's mannerisms, syntax, fashion, etc. to fit in. In a last ditch attempt to appear normal to those around her she has a male loser/freeloader (who once worked at the store) move in with her so that people would think she was in a relationship; and, quit her job to get a real one. In the end, she couldn't do either. She realized she was a "convenience store animal" and that was good enough for her. ( )
  bogopea | Aug 11, 2018 |
I received a digital ARC of this book from Grove Press on NetGalley. I’m grateful to Grove Press for their generosity and am happy to post this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Keiko Furukura has been working at the same convenience store since she was eighteen. While this was fine when she was just starting out, she’s thirty-six now, unmarried and childless. Keiko is content among the contents in the aisles of her store; however, her family and friends are worried, and their worry is starting to upset the careful order of Keiko’s days. To assuage everyone’s worries and restore her own equilibrium, Keiko resolves to make the changes that will lesson their scrutiny and return her to her quiet life—except that along the way, Keiko discovers that the life she wants and the life others want for her may not be reconcilable.

As you can guess from the title, much of the action takes place in a Tokyo convenience store where Keiko has spent over half her life as a part-time employee. Though translated, the book is easy to read; the only nuance necessary for an American audience to really appreciate the story is to understand the place of convenience stores in Japanese culture. A Japanese convenience store is not simply a 7/11 offering old hot dogs and questionable coffee. Japanese konbini are safe, brightly-lit, spaces that also sell fresh food you would actually want to eat. Japanese culture in general highly values excellent customer service; accordingly, konbini employee behavior is pretty tightly prescribed.

Character Study
With that introduction, Convenience Store Woman is a character study of Keiko set largely within the walls of her konbini. The early parts of the book have flashes of Keiko’s early life—where she finds a dead bird on the playground surrounded by mourning children and responds by taking it to her mother because her father enjoys eating birds (presumably a different kind of bird but I’m not actually sure)—Keiko believes she is contributing something good while her tiny compatriots and their parents find her to be a monster for not mourning the tiny death in the park. Similarly, Keiko ends a fight in first grade by hitting a boy over the head with a shovel—everyone was yelling to stop the fight and this was the most expedient way to do so.

Having learned that her instincts and interpretation of social cues are apparently wired differently from those around her, Keiko turned inward. She is an expert observer and mimic, designing the details of her life—her clothing, her speech patterns, her topics of conversation—around those she sees and hears from her fellow coworkers. Keiko’s life is ordered and neat, she knows what to do and what to expect at any given point in her day-to-day life. Her only moments of discomfort occur when others around her question why she is still working at the konbini and why she has never had a boyfriend.

Though it is not stated anywhere in the book or in any interviews with the author, Keiko’s presentation strongly reminded me of someone on the autism spectrum. She thrives on order and being given clear expectations and instructions for her speech and behavior. She is extremely rational—the moment with the shovel as a child is less an example of how Keiko might be prone to violence (she’s not) and more an example of how she isn’t bound by social convention in coming to the most expedient resolution to the problem everyone identified.

Ultimately, whether she is or isn’t on the spectrum, isn’t the point here—Keiko is who she is, labels or no. Keiko’s different wiring is what makes Convenience Store Woman such a fascinating character study. She is not someone who resists convention for the sake of being different—indeed, she can embrace conventions in speech and dress when to do so makes sense in her life and abhors standing out. That this is decidedly not Keiko is highlighted by the appearance of another character, Shiraha—a character who drove me so nuts I almost stopped reading.

Turns Out Entitled Men Are Everywhere
Shiraha is entitled—simultaneously trying every way to not work while complaining about how we’re all going back to the stone-age and he’s so put upon. We should apparently pay him just to grace us with his presence and bad mood. He resists doing what he’s told and fitting in seemingly for the sake of resisting. He is everything bad in the stereotypical white man, except he’s Japanese in Japan. I suppose it means they’re everywhere.

But seriously, his character speaks in sweeping, offensive paragraphs that nearly turned me off the book. I can see his use as a foil to Keiko and appreciate that a male was used to further a female’s character development but this “depressing Paleolithic nightmare man” is far less charming and fun to read than your usual manic pixie dream girl. His character was designed to be this over the top; I just have an internal limit of misogyny I can read, even when it serves a purpose in a work of fiction. Murata hit it with Shiraha.

While Convenience Store Woman is narrative fiction, very little actually happens (and nothing dramatic). Instead the interactions and events serve to introduce another layer of Keiko to the reader and, in some ways, Keiko to herself. In trying to change her life, Keiko comes to appreciate what it is she can and can’t live with for the sake of others.

This narrative structure has the effect of making Convenience Store Woman a slower read. The mercy here is that the book is remarkably short—it’s 176 pages and I moved through it fast enough on my kindle that the progress bar made me double-check to make sure I’d received a full book and not a sample. This length is just right for the book—because so little happens, much longer would have felt like the book dragged. Instead, I felt like I got to know Keiko just the right amount for both of us and then was able to close the book and move on.

Published: June 12, 2018 by Grove Press (@groveatlantic)
Author: Sayaka Murata (Ginny Tapley Takemori, Translator)
Date read: June 10, 2018
Rating: 3 ½ stars

Find more reviews at http://lisaannreads.com ( )
  ImLisaAnn | Aug 9, 2018 |
I love Japanese fiction. I love Japanese convenience stores. So a novel that is Japanese and set primarily in a convenience store is a win-win situation for me. Convenience Store Woman is a quirky, slim novel that doesn’t just detail life as a convenience store worker but the pressure to fit in and be ‘normal’ in society. This is particularly important in Japanese society, where the focus is on society as a whole rather than an individual. So Keiko’s feeling of being different is magnified times a million.

Keiko is in her late thirties. She’s single, which would be acceptable if she was high on the corporate ladder, but she works part-time in a convenience store. (Part-time sounds like an Australian full-time to me, as she works five days a week on the day shift). Keiko has been told by her family that she isn’t normal. She relates childhood stories of responses to events that aren’t what you would usually expect from a child (but are actually pretty practical, even though they aren’t socially acceptable). Keiko finds the only place that she can be normal is in the convenience store. There, she knows the routine and exactly what to say. She has an eye for detail and is thoroughly organised. She is a dream employee. She has worked at the Smile Mart for 18 years and seen a number of managers and even more employees come and go. Smile Mart is Keiko’s safe spot…

But is it her happy place? After much nagging from her family and friends, Keiko decides she has to actually look normal from the outside. But as is her way, she does it in an odd fashion. Will she find what she wants? Or was her own grass greener than everyone else’s? The story is a quick read, but leaves the reader with much to ponder over. Should the individual fit with society? If they don’t, what are the consequences to all involved? What is happiness to each person? What is normal? Ginny Tapley Takemori has done a marvellous job of capturing the Japanese psyche and the bewilderment of Keiko’s feelings as ‘abnormal’. She also captures the wonder of the Japanese convenience store in all its glory. Convenience stores in Japan aren’t a place to buy the milk you forgot or dodgy coffee. You can find delicious, cheap meals; fancy chocolate and lollies and quality cosmetics and magazines and books. Presentation is everything (I once bought a banana with a bow tied around it, a rainbow parfait Kit Kat, a Shiseido mascara and a tetra pak of sake all in the same transaction) and the workers are helpful and unfailingly polite. Reading this novel brought back memories of scouring Lawson, 7-11 and Family Mart for goodies every day in Japan!

This is a wonderful read that is eccentric and lovable. I look forward to more of Sayaka Murata’s work being translated into English.

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
  birdsam0610 | Jul 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
In Sayaka Murata’s “Convenience Store Woman,” a small, elegant and deadpan novel from Japan, a woman senses that society finds her strange, so she culls herself from the herd before anyone else can do it. She becomes an anonymous, long-term employee of the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart, a convenience store, a kiosk for her floating soul...“Convenience Store Woman” has touched a chord in Japan, where it has sold close to 600,000 copies....I have mixed feelings about “Convenience Store Woman,” but there is no doubt that it is a thrifty and offbeat exploration of what we must each leave behind to participate in the world.
Not all novel titles manage so very literally to describe the contents, but this one – unapologetically deadpan yet enticingly comic – absolutely does...This, Murata’s 10th novel, has been a big hit both in Japan and worldwide, and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s not flawless: Shiraha seems to be more of a plot enabler than fully realised character and, though Murata’s gloriously nutty deadpan prose and even more nuttily likable narrator are irresistible, I’d have liked more on her latent psychopathic streak...But these are minor quibbles and perhaps even missing the point. For it’s the novel’s cumulative, idiosyncratic poetry that lingers, attaining a weird, fluorescent kind of beauty all of its own.. The book’s title is more than perfect, for this, you soon realise, is a love story. Keiko’s love story: the convenience is all hers.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sayaka Murataprimary authorall editionscalculated
Tapley Takemori, GinnyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A convenience store is a world of sound.
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Book description
The English-language debut of one of Japan's most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura.

Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of "Smile Mart," she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction — many are laid out line by line in the store's manual — and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a "normal" person excellently, more or less. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action...

A brilliant depiction of a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures we all feel to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

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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?… (more)

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