In a world where we have, and continue to break down the walls of convention, Convenience Store Woman looks at the societal norms the majority don’t care to change. Full of rare worldly insight, this book captures the moments we sometimes overlook. Like a magnifying glass on society, Convenience Store Woman offers a deadpan commentary on humanity and all its wonders and flaws.
The book by Japanese author Sayaka Murata follows 36-year-old Keiko Furukura as she observes the people around her, mimics her colleagues, and attempts to understand the civilisation that mystifies her so much. She is odd. She has worked at the same convenience store for eighteen years. She has never had a boyfriend. The convenience store is the only normality in her life; she can perform ordinarily enough to pass in the micro ecosystem of the store.
Since childhood socially awkward Keiko had been alienated for her abnormal and anomalous behaviour. The humour of Sayaka Murata’s commentary really shines in these flashbacks. But an almost psychopathic child who bashes “unruly boys” over the head with spades, and exclaims “Lets eat it!” upon finding a dead budgie in the park makes us question if we really want to root for Keiko. It reminds us we aren’t dealing with the quirky Zooey Deschanel type, but someone much more complicated.
However, in the convenience store Keiko is as completely homogenous. She describes being “reborn” in the store, the place that finally gave her a manual: how to act, how to smile, how to be normal. Not only is Keiko as good as normal in the store, she is in sync with the store and its daily needs. Keiko thrives in this environment of food displays, hot food cabinets and endless shelving; she “responds automatically” to the stores every demand.
What the book really questions is how we value people in society. Do we value people for who they are, or what they are? Is social status built on personality or career and relationship success? On several occasions when questioned about her career goals (or lack of), and her inability to find a partner, Keiko lies about having a long-term illness to avoid further probing. This is an example of the pressure to conform in order to upkeep traditional society views, rather than accepting others goals as personal and subjective. Normality is valued over individuality.
To avert the judgments of her colleagues and family, Keiko invites Shiraha, a lazy misogynist who was recently fired from the store, to live with her. The agreement is beneficial to both parties. Keiko gets to disrupt the judgement cast by those close to her, and Shiraha gets to live his sluggish life hidden away from the society he so clearly despises.
The conquest for self-actualisation before you end up single in your 30s is challenged in this masterpiece of modern literature. In all its oddities and strangeness, Convenience Store Woman is a great work of social commentary guaranteed to make you laugh, squirm, and ponder.