Book Review – Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman is a short but sweet tale of a 36-year-old woman who found her life’s purpose at the age of 18 when she got a job in the local supermarket. Unlike the outside world, the convenience store has a set of expected and accepted rules which Keiko, our heroine, can follow to enable her to seem ‘normal’ to the rest of the world.

I found this book after it was recommended to me on Facebook while I was searching for childless heroines. Keiko is thirty-six, childless, single and has worked full-time in a convenience store since she was eighteen years old. 


This book has a similar feel to lots of other novels about childless women in that the female protagonist is eccentric/odd/unusual. I’m not sure how I feel about this and I’m starting to see a pattern in the books where the childless woman is the main character and I don’t know if I accept this portrayal as representative of our community. In this case, however, the author is childless and has admitted that the book is semi-autobiographical so I am perhaps more accepting of it than I would have been if the author was a mother (more on this in another book I’m reading, coming soon!)


Keiko is evidently very happy with her life; it has a structure and she has a purpose which is to be the best convenience store worker she can be. She is truly motivated by the tasks of the store such as making sure the promotional goods are prominently displayed, but her sister is her conduit to the “normal” world and gives Keiko tips and hints on what to say or how to act so that she can more easily fit in with those around her.


The cracks begin to appear in this facade when Keiko starts to believe the things she is being told – should she be married by now? Must she have children? Is it prudent to keep working this “dead-end” job? The story follows Keiko as she explores these questions. 


A short book, but a sweet one which gives a voice to a member of society who can so easily be overlooked. The humour is often dark and dry but sincere; the voice of Keiko is utterly believable and fresh.

 

There are a number of characters in the book with children (including Keiko’s sister). The topic of having children comes up a few times in the context of Keiko not following this path of “marriage and kids”. Through the perspective of one of Keiko’s colleagues, there are some pretty heavily misogynistic statements (an example: “People who don’t fit into the village are expelled: men who don’t hunt, women who don’t give birth to children.”)

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