Published by: Grove Press
ISBN 13: 9780802128256
Published: June 2018
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is set in Japan, and follows the life of Keiko Furukura who is 36 years old and has worked at the same convenience store for eighteen years so far, and feels no impulse to change. She’s comfortable there and it’s a safe space – she knows how it operates, what is expected of her, and she’s been there so long that she has a store of responses that sit various situations so she can avoid awkward interactions.
If you’ve been to Japan you’ll know their convenience stores are quite integral. We have 7-11s and similar in other parts of the world but in a konbini (コンビニ) we have a different level of quality all together. Aside from the seasonal items and limited edition specials, you also get very cheap yet high quality fresh-ground coffee, snacks such as sandwiches, gyoza, onigiri and then evena black label premium range, and then there’s also free wifi, free and clean restrooms, and a clean seating area for you to rest or work. It may be menial work but their level of quality and convenience vastly outweighs any other I’ve come across.
This book explores the general view of society in Japan, and how there are only the few main ways one is expected to act and seek to accomplish in life. And how it feels to be on the outside of these norms, feeling that pressure to conform but remaining outside of the scope of normal. As someone who has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s, I was really able to identify with Furukura. Others may see the relentless analysing as exhausting however it’s simply how some environments or situations read. And safe is good. In Japan there may be the expectation to live for your job and while, yes, take pride in your work, somehow this doesn’t stretch to convenience store work.
Really, we should be congratulating those who do any job well. If Furukura feels safe in that job, is happy getting up each day, and earns enough to live the life she wants… that should be enough for her parents and those around her.