Convenience Store Woman
By Sayaka Murata
The English-language debut of an exciting young voice in international fiction, selling 660,000 copies in Japan alone, Convenience Store Woman is a bewitching portrayal of contemporary Japan through the eyes of a single woman who fits into the rigidity of its work culture only too well.
The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction―many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual―and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…
A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.
“In Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, a small, elegant and deadpan novel, a woman senses that society finds her strange, so she culls herself from the herd before anyone else can do it . . . Casts a fluorescent spell . . . A thrifty and offbeat exploration of what we must each leave behind to participate in the world.”―Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Alienation gets deliciously perverse treatment in Convenience Store Woman . . . Murata herself spent years as a convenience store employee. And one pleasure of this book is her detailed portrait of how such a place actually works. Yet the book’s true brilliance lies in Murata’s way of subverting our expectations . . . With bracing good humor . . . Murata celebrate[s] the quiet heroism of women who accept the cost of being themselves.”―John Powers, NPR “Fresh Air”
“The novel borrows from Gothic romance, in its pairing of the human and the alluringly, dangerously not. It is a love story, in other words, about a misfit and a store . . . Keiko’s self-renunciations reveal the book to be a kind of grim post-capitalist reverie: she is an anti-Bartleby, abandoning any shred of identity outside of her work . . . It may make readers anxious, but the book itself is tranquil―dreamy, even―rooting for its employee-store romance from the bottom of its synthetic heart.”―Katy Waldman, New Yorker
“Keiko, a defiantly oddball 36-year-old woman, has worked in a dead-end job as a convenience store cashier in Tokyo for half her life. She lives alone and has never been in a romantic relationship, or even had sex. And she is perfectly happy with all of it . . . Written in plain-spoken prose, the slim volume focuses on a character who in many ways personifies a demographic panic in Japan.”―Motoko Rich, New York Times (profile)
“It’s the novel’s cumulative, idiosyncratic poetry that lingers, attaining a weird, fluorescent kind of beauty all of its own. The world of the store with its dented cans and rice balls and barcodes and scanners, and Keiko’s shivery, unashamedly sensual response as a ‘convenience store animal’ who can ‘hear the store’s voice telling me what it wanted, how it wanted to be.’ The book’s title is more than perfect, for this, you soon realize, is a love story. Keiko’s love story: the convenience is all hers.”―Julie Myerson, Guardian