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.