Written by: Aayushi Agarwal
Over the last year or so, translated non-western literature has often piqued my interest, and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata was no exception.
This book tells the story of thirty-six-year-old Keiko Furukawa, a Tokyo resident who has worked at the same neighborhood convenience store for the past eighteen years. She finds purpose in the store; it is a source of comfort for her. Here, she understands how to navigate social interactions and the world around her; the convenience store has become an inherent part of her identity. However, in a world where people are expected to constantly outgrow present situations and move on, she is considered an anomaly. With growing societal pressure to settle down and further her career, Keiko has to decide if it’s time to say goodbye to the convenience store.
A major theme of this book is how “abnormal” people are ostracized from society—it is never explicitly mentioned, but I think Keiko may be on the spectrum. She adjusts her personality, so to say, by observing those around her, as she is unable to find society’s “normal” by herself.
“My present self is formed almost completely of the people around me.”
I love this idea of people being an amalgamation of pieces of the world around them. There is connection in our very being, and this book serves as a nice reminder of that.
Something this book also talks about is routine, and how we can gain pleasure and purpose from our daily mechanics. The convenience store represents a sort of haven for Keiko, where she can don her uniform and feel like a functioning member of society. The little things are what give her purpose, and the details she notices make the story feel more immersive.
I definitely liked the first half more than the second half. It seemed like it veered off course (not necessarily bad) and I liked the ending, but it was not as satisfying as I had hoped. I felt like a couple major plot points had been left unresolved, and not in a way where the ending became more impactful. A conversation about conforming to societal pressures was started but left hanging. Even just one more chapter could have helped create some kind of closure.
To me, Convenience Store Woman ended up being a social commentary that lost its path, and left me wondering where exactly I was now.
Overall, I still enjoyed reading it. I liked a lot of the ideas touched upon, and it made me feel more comfortable with my mundane.
I hope you are also able to find your convenience store.