In this funny, odd-ball and deeply emotional novel by Japanese debut novelist Sayaka Murata, we follow the book’s heroine Keiko, who is in her late 30’s and is working as a sales assistant in a convenience store, while living unmarried and childless (a mortal sin in Japan).
Keiko has been bullied and friendless for most of her life, because of her tendencies towards some unconventional behaviour. However, at the age of 18, her penchant for routine and fierce dedication to maintaining detail and order made her the perfect loyal candidate for a job at Smile Mart, a convenience store in Tokyo. Without giving too much away, things begin to change and unspool and she is faced with some dramatic options in life.
I love to visit Japan and Japanese convenience stores, which are always immaculately clean and well stocked with high quality and often nutritious foods, as well as cheerful staff who endeavour never to look you squarely in the eyes but yet always seem to intuit exactly what you need, at every moment.
Stumbling upon this book, I had the opportunity to unravel a secret world of convenience stores and their perennially chirpy personnel. What is behind these smiles? I wondered. Of course hardship, of course sadness and loneliness. This book shows us all of the humanity behind these people who are often treated as invisible or unimportant in Japan.
Convenience Store Woman was the first novel by Sayaka Murata, one that was semi-autobiographical and inspired by her own experience working for several years in a convenience store.
The novel has a strong emotive pulling power and an idiosyncratic lyricism and odd and quirky humour. I read it in one sitting it was just superb in every way. If you like Japanese culture, I recommend you read this one. 5/5