Review of ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata

Keiko has always been an outsider. She doesn’t understand how to be an individual in Japanese society, which means she copies other people’s behaviour. Working at a convenience store helps her to feel included. She’s worked there for eighteen years and it’s her way of life. But then her friends decide that getting married will cure whatever is wrong with her.

I found this an odd kind of book. It’s eccentric in its focus on the convenience store and is in turn amusing, sad, irritating and thought-provoking. Keiko guides the reader through her role at the store, her excellent customer service, her dedication to the job. She sees herself as a cog in a machine, but unlike some people, she takes pride in this. There is a dark undercurrent to the narrative, a dangerous side to Keiko’s nature which appears to be kept in check by the routine of her job. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, as it doesn’t factor in the ending. I was waiting for something dreadful to occur. I think this book is more about concepts than plot.

At 163 pages this is a short novel (I completed it in a day). This is certainly a strength because the story manages to be memorable and yet leaves questions unanswered – which are guarantees that I’d still be thinking about it for days to come. One of the ideas that made me think was about individuality. We absorb and reflect each other’s mannerisms and preferences. We do this to ‘fit in’, to escape the unspoken fear that we are all identical and easily replaced… like workers in a convenience store.

This book was first published in 2016 as Konbini ningen. The 2018 English translation is by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

15 thoughts on “Review of ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata”

  1. I’m itching to read this book but I’ve just not gotten around to it yet. There are new paperback editions coming out soon so I’m going to get one of those 🙂 Fab review! xx

    1. Thank you! The book is unique, that’s for sure. Hope you like it when you get round to it 🙂

  2. Great review. You got me really interested in this book. I know many Japanese fiction books that are all about concepts than plot, often being purely observational, so I think it has to do more with the style of Japanese writers. It is also curious that this book asks questions about individuality. I imagine this is a sensitive issue in Japan because it often cannot really shed the perception that it is a traditional conformist culture.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Diana! Yes, this book definitely had something to say about society, and I’m still thinking about it even now. The way Keiko is pressured into getting married and looking for a better job do give an indication of the need to conform.

    1. Definitely what we should all do. But what is stronger, the will to be individual or the pressures to conform? As this book explores. 🙂

    1. I was wanting to read it… then I finally bought it… then I waited a couple of months until I actually read it!

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