This was one of several books I got for Christmas, and I’d added it to the Santa list after reading quite a few positive reviews of it last year. And now I can see why: it’s a wonderfully quirky, insightful, surprising short novel, quite unlike any books I’ve read recently. Murata, who herself used to work as a worker in a convenience store, conjures a world which is simultaneously strange and entirely familiar.
The story revolves around Keiko, a woman in her mid-thirties who has never fitted in – from childhood onwards, she has struggled to understand how things work, why people act the way they do, and why people care about some things more than others. The only place she feels a useful, functioning part of society is in the convenience store where she has worked for many years (to the shame and bafflement of her family and friends). A convenience store she knows intimately, can see things ahead of time, is adept at dealing with customers, and understands in every way.
You can interpret all of this this in multiple ways: at times, I felt this was a love story between Keiko and the store; at others, that the store was a metaphor for the society we live in; it also has the feeling of a Bildungsroman in Keiko’s journey of (self-)realisation, even at a later time of her life. The pressure to conform from outside (to get married, to have children, to get a better job) becomes intense and difficult to resist, and at these times, the store is also a sanctuary where things are consistent, reliable and hermetically sealed.
I’m also doing the book a disservice if I don’t write about how funny it is, how moving and, at times, painfully sad. Or how beautifully drawn the supporting cast is, not least the oddball ex-worker who becomes more a part of her life. Murata’s deadpan style suits the narrative perfectly, and that helps reveal Keiko’s quiet heroism – a heroism that challenges the world to not judge people who have found what they love, even if it doesn’t conform to societal norms; it also challenges us to think about how we construct our own identity, and why we have made decisions in our own lives. Wonderful.
BUY IT NOW Convenience Store Woman