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?
The novella’s narrator is Keiko Furukawa, autistic. She has a hard time figuring out how to behave in ways that society finds acceptable, and so when she speaks to people, she copy-pastes her intonations, word choices and speaking styles from various colleagues. Fortunately, she works part-time in a 24/7 convenience store, where lots of colleagues work for brief periods before moving on, and so she has plenty of people to copy without her camouflage ever becoming obvious.
That part-time job was a great way of seeming “normal” when she was eighteen, and her family was happy for her then. She’s thirty-six now, though, and shows no hint of ever wanting to change her life, and that is making Keiko seem suspiciously abnormal to society in general and her family and friends in particular. But the job is perfect for Keiko: after all, it came with a manual that tells her exactly how to address customers, and with a training video that illustrates the correct inflections and level of enthusiasm to display -- and she does them perfectly. She couldn’t fit better into her job, but it’s the very thing that is threatening to undo her camouflage.
Enter the central conceit of the novella: Shiraha, a male colleague her own age, who definitely displays many features of misogynistic toxic masculinity -- he considers himself beta and has given up on even trying to compete with ambitious, high-earning alphas for both money and access to females (though he does not use those terms). As it turns out, autistic Keiko and misogynistic Shiraha find common ground in their issues with all the things society expects from them and which they are not equipped to handle.
That is the central idea of the book, and I think Murata did a really good job of developing it into plausibility (though it’s not a complete success). But where this novella really shines is Keiko’s inner life: her tools and tricks of the trade of appearing “normal”, her contentedness with her (to outsiders) dead-end life, and her out-of-left-field planning to prevent her life from derailing.
Very well done. I think I shall be recommending this to lots of people I know.
I began to feel uncomfortable for Keiko when her friends put her on the spot by questioning if she’d ever been in love. She was then age 36, single, and comfortable in her role as a convenience store employee. Why rock the boat?
I took the story at face value until the character of Shihara appeared. This was a man who was fired from his job at the same convenience store and for whom Keiko took such pity that she offered for him to stay in her apartment. It was at that point I realized this story was a satire on Japanese life. I understood how nonconformity in Japan does not exist when the strong expectation is for a woman to be married with children or, if single, in a prestigious job and for a man to be married or not but to have a serious, well-paying job. No deviation from this norm is acceptable.
”...you should really either get a job or get married, one or the other...Or better still, you should do both.”
I found the conversations between Keiko and Shiraha quite funny at that point. By the end of the book, I came to the conclusion that this story also addressed the worth of an individual’s work, whatever it may be. That’s a valiant idea.
Convenience stores are so ubiquitous. It was kind of fun to read about an employee of a convenience store. I was surprised that the author of this novel also works in a convenience store. I’d never guess a convenience store employee would also be an author!
She starts to realize that this time, they're not letting up. And that she's only going to be able to do convenience store work as long as she stays fit and healthy, something that is only partly in her control.
There are also some strange things happening in the store. One of them is a man her own age, a new employee, who looks down on convenience store work, but can't hold any other job because of his own peculiar attitude. His situation is even less socially acceptable than Keiko's, and his own family is far less tolerant.
Will Keiko find a way to fit in, or will she find a way to embrace who she is?
The story is engaging, funny, and sometimes disturbing, but I couldn't help rooting for Keiko.
I bought this audiobook.
I understand what the book was trying to tell me. I understand the underlying message. I even liked the protagonist. But for me, the story just wasn't interesting. Both the translation and narration felt stilted. Perhaps part of that was character driven, but it just felt like a poor production. I'm sorry I bought this one.
Of course, everyone has different tastes in books, so you may love this book.
This is just a delightful story. Keiko is an unusual narrator, utterly devoted to routine and rules, she carefully studies the demeanor of others to know how to behave. This leaves her unable to withstand the social opprobrium she faces from her friends and family. Keiko is such a wonderful character, and her story is told with such understated compassion.
Murata playfully explores these ideas by placing her protagonist/narrator in a Japanese convenience stores. The Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart is a wonderful metaphor for the wider community. Its employees adopt roles that allow for the smooth running and financial success of the store. Everything revolves around marketing even false pleasantries like shouting good morning to everyone who enters (“Irasshaimasé”).
Keiko Furukura is a middle-aged employee who has been working happily at the store for many years. Prior to this job, she was the kind of person who was too logical and truthful for her own good. Society rejected her and her family felt she needed to be “cured.” The structure she found at the convenience store provided what she needed to adapt. Everything seems to be working out well for Keiko until the store hires Shiraha. This young man is a firm non-conformist who knows what he wants (a wife to support him) and is not shy about expressing his views of what he perceives as an oppressive society. After Shiraha gets himself fired, Keiko takes pity on him and offers to share her really tiny flat with him. This grifter cons her into believing that living with him will make her appear more normal. This seems to work well enough until it doesn’t. While spending his days in her bathtub, he decides she needs to get a better job.
CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN is a simple story with a fable-like quality. The theme is heavy; nevertheless Sayaka keeps the mood light. She treats her characters with affection and understanding. Shiraha, a pretty despicable guy, is portrayed as such a loser that even he evokes a bit of sympathy. This novel has a lot to say and does it deftly. Its brevity only adds to its appeal. It is well worth reading a couple of times—once for the fun and once for the ideas.
In elementary school, Keiko had learned to cope with her peers by simply keeping silent. The few times she had reacted to situations, her reactions, perfectly logical to her at the time, were deemed totally unacceptable -- for instance, when two boys got into a fight, and everyone was yelling at them to stop, she simply picked up a shovel and hit one over the head. This and a few similar occurences led her loving parents to try to find an elusive "cure" for her.
While it is difficult for someone not intimately knowlegeable about Japanese culture and the kind of exploration/satire Murata is employing, for me, as a Western reader, the novel seems to be exploring the reality and coping mechanisms employed by someone on the autism/Aspergers syndrom scale. The book is wry and has some definite humorous moments as well as a fairly strong message about "living and let live."
“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.”
Quote: “The sensation that the world is slowly dying feels good.”
Keiko Furukura has been “different” and an outsider for all of her life. When she finds a job in a Kombini, a Japanese convenience store, she finally finds a place where she feels comfortable.
After eighteen years she learns that if a woman hasn’t made a career or is happily married with kids, she’s a “failure”. Tired of questions of her family and friends she starts looking for a solution – and her new co-worker Shiraha could be a part of it…
How was it?
I liked the light narration voice. Keiko is an adorable character: She represents well the lack of understanding for socially developed norms and values which seem unshakable. The reader can follow Keiko’s thoughts very well: Her relieve of having a place where she knows how everything works and has to be is perceptible in between the pages.
The writing style is very vivid and Murata paints a colourful picture of the magic of a Japanese Kombini.
If the aim of a book is to transport you to s different time and place - this one succeeded brilliantly.
I absolutely loved this novel - it's hilarious in places, but also quite sad because Keiko isn't allowed by others to simply live her life the way that suits her best. It has a lot to say about societal expectations of both women and men who don't go into a high-flying job and/or get married and have children, and about how these expectations can have consequences when you don't listen to the people you're trying to foist them on to.
The writing (and therefore also the translation) is fantastic, with some wonderful observations of how we mimic others’ speech and behaviour in an attempt to fit in, mixed with some of Keiko's somewhat darker thoughts and memories. I would be very interested to read more of Sayaka Murata's work.
Keiko is aware that she does not feel as other people do. She does not understand the expectations of society but is conscientious in mimicking the people around her. wearing the right clothes, showing the right facial expressions and saying the right things.
Keiko comes under a lot of pressure to have a career or a husband or, ideally, both. She does not understand why this matters so much to other people but is careful not to criticise their expectations. Her conformity is enabled by her sister, who is aware of Keiko’s difference but eager to conceal it.
Keiko’s life changes when Shiraha begins to work at the convenience store. He too has failed to meet society’s expectations, but rather than adapting, he is angry. He sees himself as a victim and believes it is always someone else, never himself, that is to blame for his problems.
This book has such a lovely voice and a subtle, understated humour. It asks interesting questions about what it is to conform and to belong. On the one hand, Keiko’s complete acceptance of the terms of a low-paid, demanding job might feel like exploitation, but on the other she shows strength in constructing a life on her own terms.
While the pressure for a woman to marry is perhaps greater in Japan than in the West (embarrassing aunties at your sister’s wedding notwithstanding) it does raise questions about what pressures we do accept without question, and how we look at those who choose not to belong.
The people around Keiko, even those who claim to care for her, are only interested in the surface. Keiko struggles to understand the feelings of others, but they have not even tried to understand hers, assuming that her needs are the same as society’s.
Keiko is both charming and subversive. When as a child she asked why it is wrong to eat a dead bird found in the park, but alright to buy a dead bird to eat from the supermarket, she showed more logic than most adults. Many of her perceptions are quite sensible, even though she is the one who her friends believe is in need of a ‘cure’.
Convenience Store Woman is an engaging story and its simple, spare prose asks some deceptively complex questions.
I received a copy of Convenience Store Woman from the publisher via Netgalley.
Read more of my reviews at katevane.com/blog
Anyone whose life doesn’t fit the script. And anyone whose does, but insists that other’s lives fit as well.
In a nutshell:
Keiko is 36, single, and has been working in the same convenience store since she was 18. Family and friends want her to get another job, find a husband, and maybe have a child.
“When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why. I found that arrogant and infuriating, not to mention a pain in the neck.”
“The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of.”
“People who are considered normal enjoy putting those who aren’t on trial, you know.”
Why I chose it:
It’s been on display everywhere I go lately, so I finally picked it up. Glad I did!
Keiko doesn’t fit into what society expects of women. She works part-time in a job that others look down upon, she doesn’t date, and she doesn’t have many friends or interests outside of work. She makes people uncomfortable because she doesn’t have the same life goals as others - she has no interest in sex, she doesn’t want another job. She studies others so she can fit in better, but overall she’d just be happy if people let her be. But of course, people don’t, including a misogynistic jackass who starts - and quickly leaves - work at the same convenience store.
This is a short book, but it packs a lot into it. Author Murata uses an interesting and different character - one who it might be hard to initially relate to - to make a bigger point about life and what we expect from it for not just ourselves, but others. I get a taste of it at times because I am not having children; some people with children often seem to not entirely know what to do with me once they realize that I’m not going to change my mind. And on a more serious level, I see this playing out in my home town of Seattle, where people who aren’t fulfilling what others view as their duty (namely, to somehow miraculously figure out how to find a home with money they don’t have) are viewed as a drain on society. There’s a life script, and people who follow it (usually people who, I would argue, are unhappy they had to follow it) can be utterly cruel to those who either can’t, won’t, or don’t want to.
Obviously this is complicated by the fact that the thing that seems to make Keiko happy is working in what so many people think of as a soul-crushing job. I saw one review that considered this a horror book. And perhaps part of it is. Or perhaps the author picked something that it would be hard for so many of us to see as a positive to challenge us further. Either way, I’m into it.
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it: