Thursday, July 30, 2020

Fiction Review: Convenience Store Woman

My first request from my library when they re-opened for curbside pick-up was Convenience Store Woman, a Japanese novel by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. One of my favorite book podcasts, Book Cougars, chose this novel for their summer readalong, so I joined in the fun. Their discussion will be available on August 4 at the link. I enjoyed this slim novel featuring a unique main character and some thoughtful musings on the culture in our world today.

Keiko never felt like she fit in with the rest of the world, until she found her place: as a worker in a 24-hour convenience store called Smile Mart. There, among the rigid rules and procedures of the store chain, Keiko finally feels at home. In the rest of her life--even among her friends and family--she is never quite sure what to say or how to act, and she always feels out of place and has to work hard to observe others and try to replicate their behaviors to appear "normal." But in the florescent glare of the store, where things never change, and all interactions are spelled out in the employee manual, Keiko shines. She complies perfectly with all rules and regulations, and is outstanding at her job, always thinking of what's best for the store and its customers. Other employees come and go, often not taking the job seriously, but Keiko is Smile Mart's most dependable employee. Keiko is happy with the life she has built for herself and loves her job. The problem is the rest of the world; after 18 years at the store, her family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers tell her she should want more for her life. Everyone is pressuring her to find a husband and have a family or at least a "serious" job with a solid career path. Should Keiko stay in the world she loves or listen to everyone else and comply with societal norms?

"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.

Finally I understood why my family had tried so hard to fix me"

The thoughtful ethical dilemma in this novel is clear from this simple summary, but what is harder to convey is how unique and endearing Keiko is. Her confusion over "normal" behaviors and inability to read others' emotions made me wonder if she is on the autism spectrum. She reminded me somewhat of Eleanor in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, another character I loved. And, of course, surrounding this intriguing character is her moral predicament: conform in the way that society and culture are pushing her or listen to her heart and do what feels right for her? I did think that perhaps the pressure to conform is slightly more prominent in Japanese culture. Though certainly, high school was like that back in the 70's and 80's, but it feels like our society today has more room for people who don't fit in--perhaps because the outcasts of the past can now find other like themselves in online communities. In any case, this brief but impactful novel provides much food for thought and was very entertaining as well. I was rooting for Keiko to find her own path to happiness. I can't wait to listen to the Book Cougars discussion next week!

163 pages, Grove Press

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. This sample includes Keiko working in the store and a brief glimpse into her childhood. I read the book in print, but the audio sounds great!


You can purchase Convenience Store Woman from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

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You can also buy through indie bookstores using Bookshop.

Or you can Convenience Store Woman from Book Depository


  1. That's funny that you compared the personality to Eleanor Oliphant, which is what I was thinking.