Friday 25 October 2019


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata  {Reviewed by STELLA} 
Meet Keiko, our anti-heroine. She’s an oddball character who has never fitted in. Finding work at a convenience store was a great relief to her family, who worried endlessly about what she would do with her life. They saw this part-time job as a great starting place for the eighteen-year-old, and for Keiko, the job - with its uniform, the precise order of the products, the store slogans called out with absolute enthusiasm - is a revelation, the first time in her life that she’s felt part of something. Being told what to say, and when, makes her ‘normal’. Now she’s been doing this for eighteen years - we meet thirty-six-year-old Keiko at the store being the perfect worker but increasingly questioned by her friends and family. Why is she still in this dead-end job? If she isn’t going to move on, she will, naturally, have to marry. When the lazy, cynical Shiraha is employed at her store, Keiko is repulsed and intrigued by him. As he shirks his responsibilities and laments being hassled about it, churning out his favourite phrase “things haven’t changed since the Stone Age”, it’s not too long until he is fired, his greatest misdemeanour being that he is looking for a wife - someone to ‘finance’ his life! After hitting on all the female staff - except for Keiko, who he sees as an old maid, not worth considering - he tries the customers, and this is his undoing. One evening, Keiko finds him hanging around outside the store, homeless and skint, and takes pity on him. However, Keiko has plans of her own. Keiko wants to please her sister (now married with a baby) and her parents (who constantly ask her if there is anything to report - both relieved and concerned that nothing has changed) and works up a plan to become 'normal'. Taking Shiraha into her tiny flat, they settle into a routine. Keiko goes to work and pays the bills, while Shiraha stays hidden (he wants to be left alone - he owes money to his brother, and his sister-in-law is on his case), making a comfortable place for himself in the bath (cushions and internet connection are all he needs). Keiko brings him food, most of which he complains about, from the convenience store - dented cans and expired use-by-date produce. He is her ‘pet’. Being a ‘couple’ takes the heat off Keiko and suddenly she is seen as normal by her colleagues, her old friends from school, and her family - no matter what Shiraha is like: a useless parasite. That she finally, at 36, has a man living in her apartment fills those around her with glee. Finally, Shiraha decides it is time for Keiko to leave the convenience store and better herself. Keiko is quite happy to go - everyone treats her differently now that she is ‘with’ Shiraha. Yet always she is drawn to the lights, sounds and pleasures of the convenience store - the hum, the stacks of cans and containers and the ever-changing specials. Charming, quirky and deadpan funny, Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is her tenth novel but the first to be translated into English. Murata works part-time in a convenience store.  

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