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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Convenience Store Woman

by
Murata Sayaka


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Convenience Store Woman



Title: Convenience Store Woman
Author: Murata Sayaka
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Convenience Store Woman - US
Convenience Store Woman - UK
Convenience Store Woman - Canada
Konbini - France
Die Ladenhüterin - Deutschland
La ragazza del convenience store - Italia
  • Japanese title: コンビニ人間
  • Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
  • Akutagawa Prize, 2016

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyably and effectively oddball

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 9/6/2018 Nicolas Gattig
Publishers Weekly . 9/4/2018 .
Die Zeit . 1/3/2018 Ronald Düker


  From the Reviews:
  • "The social critique can be heavy-handed, especially in talks between Keiko and Shiraha. But then, writing from personal experience and with a novelistís keen observation, Murata shines in describing the setting -- the "pristine aquarium" -- that is Keikoís sole link to existence. In smooth, lucid prose, the convenience store comes to life in its inner workings and sounds" - Nicolas Gattig, The Japan Times

  • "Murataís smart and sly novel, her English-language debut, is a critique of the expectations and restrictions placed on single women in their 30s. This is a moving, funny, and unsettling story about how to be a "functioning adult" in todayís world." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Kein Wort zu viel und keins zu wenig. Sayaka Muratas Die Ladenhüterin ist ein kleiner, gnadenloser Roman, der ohne jedes Mysterium auskommt und gerade deshalb völlig rätselhaft bleibt." - Ronald Düker, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The convenience store woman of the title is narrator Keiko Furukura, a thirty-six-year-old woman who has made a career out of what most see as a temporary job. For eighteen years now she has worked at the same store, ever since it opened -- without regret.
       Keiko has always seemed a bit off: her actions and reactions might be called (all too) practical, but to everyone around her they seem shocking; people don't think the way she does -- and she has long recognized that that pegs her as an outsider. (She's got herself better under control now, and doesn't just blurt out or act in a given situation, but considering that when her sister fusses over her crying baby Keiko still eyes the cake knife they've just been using and observes (to herself, and the reader): "if it was just a matter of making him quiet, it would be easy enough", her mind still obviously works in the same old way.)
       Keiko's practical and (reasonably) understanding younger sister has been helpful over the years, giving her advice on how to act in certain situations, and Keiko has also become adept at mimicry (so adept that she knows to temper her imitation, copying elements without mirroring completely): if she can't be herself, she can try to fit in and be like others by modeling her behavior on theirs. And so:

     My present self is formed almost completely of the people around me. I am currently made up of 30 percent Mrs. Izumi, 30 percent Sugawara, 20 percent the manager, and the rest absorbed from past colleagues
       For her, finding the convenience store, and a place in it -- as a cog --, was a rebirth: "This is the only way I can be a normal person", she has found. From her first training sessions, she loved how all her co-workers, people from all walks of life: "don the same uniform and transform into the homogenous being known as a convenience store worker" -- and she loved being able to finally belong, in being one of them. In order to find a sense of normalcy she had to become almost completely self-less -- since her own odd self didn't belong -- and this rote, clearly defined service-industry job proved ideal.
       Keiko barely relates to anything or anyone outside work: there's pretty much just her sister, as well as a former classmate whom she only really befriended after she found her convenience store worker identity. She has never been in a relationship -- not so much confused about sex as: "indifferent to the whole thing".
       For eighteen years now she's been playing the same role, like an actress who is more comfortable on the stage than off, despite repeating the same performance day after day. It's one that allows Keiko to fit in -- as:
     A convenience store is a forcibly normalized environment where foreign matter is immediately eliminated.
       She embraces that forced normalization -- since she is incapable of it otherwise. Still, even she now finds herself in a kind of a rut:
     Deep down I wanted some kind of change. Any change, whether good or bad, would be better than the state of impasse I was in now.
       One very foreign element that doesn't last long at the convenience store is Shiraha, who takes a job there but clearly isn't cut out for it. But then he also had an unusual reason for taking this job.
       Shiraha claims to have great ambitions, but he's a wastrel, angry about society's expectations and demands and how it treats those who can't quite fit in the system. He refuses to take any responsibility, or much incentive -- and when he does, it's purely personal, which is why he doesn't stay on the job long. And yet he thinks he's at least better off than Keiko, who he thinks is pathetic; he sees her as similarly a victim of a system they can't live up to, but has no sympathy for her situation:
I'm a man, so I can still make a comeback, but there's no hope for you, is there, Furukura ?
       Settling down, either in a real job or in marriage, is universally expected, and something both Keiko and Shiraha have failed at -- so the practical Keiko suggests they shack up. Though he's certain he could never even consider any intimacy with her, Shiraha sees the potential advantages (aside from simply having a roof over his head -- certainly also a major consideration, given his precarious financial situation) and agrees -- and Keiko immediately sees how differently everyone reacts when she can claim to be living with someone (even the loser Shiraha). Even her honest description of him doesn't really bother the new image her acquaintances have formed for themselves -- no matter how direct she is:
     He doesn't do anything. He did say he had a dream to set up his own business, but it seems to have been all talk. He just loafs about at home.
       (In the small apartment Shiraha also likes his space, so he spends most of his time in the empty bathtub, meaning Keiko has to go use an outside pay-shower.)
       Keiko doesn't see Shiraha as any kind of potential romantic or sexual partner -- concepts that seems entirely alien to her, in any case --; instead, as she explains to him:
It's the first time I've kept an animal at home, so it feels like having a pet, you see.
       Shiraha doesn't mind being the kept man, and even gets enthusiastic when Keiko seems to be ready to make a greater change. But at heart she knows exactly who and what she is meant to be, and this brief out of character interlude and everyone's reactions to it just confirm it to her.
       Convenience Store Woman is a cheerfully subversive novel, Keiko dealing with and embracing her otherness in an across-the-board strictly regimented society -- and ironically reveling in the very concept of regimentation. She takes pride in how dependable she is -- how well she can present herself as faceless cog, how well she can serve others -- and in devoting herself so completely to her role even as the world around her sees her chosen path only as one that one would only take as a brief detour or stepping-stone.
       Convenience Store Woman is a darkly humorous critique of contemporary Japan: it speaks volumes that by far the most sympathetic character in the novel is the practically robotic, asexual (essentially neutered), affect- and emotionless narrator who seems incapable of any real human connection and finds her purpose only in playing a role, serving others. Even more devastatingly: in her embrace of this peculiar and so limited essence, she seems the only truly contented, satisfied, and whole character in the novel. Meanwhile, the 'real' lives of all the others seem flawed and fake constructs, roles they've talked themselves into (or been forced into by society) -- no less than Keiko has constructed hers -- but ones that seem terribly shallow and artificial.
       Beyond its thought-provoking take on contemporary Japanese society, Keiko's unusual matter-of-factness, and her personal sense of satisfaction (where others would never find it), help make for an appealingly quirky read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 May 2018

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Links:

Convenience Store Woman: Reviews: Murata Sayaka: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Murata Sayaka (村田沙耶香) was born in 1979.

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© 2018 the complete review

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