Book Review: ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata

Society has certain expectations of how people are meant to live their lives – certainly in other countries these expectations can vary but ultimately, they are often one and the same.

Good job, marriage, kids – the trifecta of expectation, but sometimes we are a square peg and, despite our protestations, we don’t fit in that round hole.

One girl started to ask: “What should we –” But before she could finish I snatched it up and ran over to the bench where my mother was chatting…

“Whats up, Keiko? Oh! A little bird… where did it come from I wonder?” She said gently, stroking my hair. “The poor thing. Shall we make a grave for it?”
“Let’s eat it!” I said.

“Daddy likes yakitori, doesn’t he? Let’s grill it and have it for dinner!”

That’s Keiko – our protagonist – though she doesn’t want to be a protagonist, she just wants to live her life in her own quiet way. However society, and by society we mean her friends and family, just don’t seem to want to leave her alone. She has her cover ups, her excuses and has learnt to deal with the looks and the comments but despite this, nobody will just give her a break to be herself.

The book starts off recounting how she discovered she was ‘different’ and although her quirks are never truly labelled (and nor should they be) you feel her logical nature is very much at odds with what her peers expect. I can see the whole thing playing through my mind in a weird, dubbed, telenovela. The demise of Mr Budgie and her (arguably justifiable in my opinion) actions. She manages to find solace in the unusual sanctuary of a brand-new convenience store.

 When I can’t sleep, I think about the transparent glass box that is still stirring with life even in the darkness of night. That pristine aquarium is still operating like clockwork. As I visualize the scene, the sounds of the store reverberate in my eardrums and lull me to sleep.

When morning comes, once again I’m a convenience store worker, a cog in society. This is the only way I can be a normal person.

Here Keiko is in her element, she becomes a ‘cog’ in normality. She doesn’t have to hide who she is because everything runs as it should. She knows, based on the weather, how the day will go, what she needs to focus on and whether she needs to promote chicken on a stick or mango-chocolate buns. However things change she then meets Shiraha, whose very existence disrupts her equilibrium. He comes to her perfectly ordered world and starts to pick apart at her happiness.

Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman is available now

Slowly but surely her life starts to unravel, from her relationships that she has managed to keep in check for years to the centre of her world – the convenience store.

Where I started the book finding it hard to understand her and why she was so happy with her lot, I found myself cringing with despair and mourning the loss of her world. Her life changes constantly in her eyes, but others don’t see it. These newer changes are too much and seem to be made for the benefit of everybody else – except Keiko.

Despite the mass of cultural differences between a Japanese convenience store worker and myself, I found myself empathising in a way I wouldn’t have expected. Certain ways she is spoken to and the way people treat her fill you with an unadulterated frustration and a feeling you want to protect her. Sadly however, you can certainly remember instances in our own lives where we have been in her position.

This is a story of someone who simply wants to live their life – whether they be different or not. They are bothering nobody and enjoying their routines. If you have ever felt a little bit like society has forced you into something, your peers have pressured you into making a choice that didn’t sit right – or even you just ever felt like telling people to leave you the hell alone, this book will resonate.

 Convenience Store Woman is available now!

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