Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata | Review

A black floor lamp emitting a yellow triangle of light.

Convenience Store Woman sticks two fingers up to fitting in.

Keiko is a misfit. She does the wrong thing for the right reasons – like when she smacks some kids with a shovel to stop them fighting. She knows reacting like this worries and embarrasses her family, but she doesn’t know how to fix herself.

Then along comes a job at a convenience store. Keiko relishes the regimented consistency of retail life, where she can excel at the one thing she does well: mimicking others to give the illusion that she’s ‘just like them’.

Keiko is happy enough as she is, but faces increasing suspicion from others – why isn’t she married? Has she even been in love? Eventually their insecurity and meddling threatens to push her down an impossible path.

Convenience Store Woman is a wry, concise book – easily read in a few hours, yet quirky and memorable. Keiko is a heroine of our times: she’s an outsider, but doesn’t really see the benefit of fitting in.

Her insights into the world are both sad and funny, because her ‘sentient robot’ way of seeing things pinpoints the ridiculous the lengths we go to to be just like every one else – whether it makes us happy or not.

“As I watched, some of his spittle flew out and landed on the barbecue meat. He really should avoid leaning forward over the food when talking, I thought. But then Miho’s husband started nodding vigorously too. “That’s right, why don’t you just find someone? It doesn’t really matter who it is, after all. Women have it easy in that sense.”

Murata’s 2020 novel Earthlings follows up in greater (and more graphic detail) the themes of Convenience Store Woman. This includes urban isolation and neurodiverse ways of seeing the world, but also the damage done by families.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

What to read or watch next
  • Earthlings (same author, similar themes)
  • Cheese, by Willem Elsschot (absurdism, short books)
  • Good Morning, Midnight (middle age, women, misfits)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (being unique in a conformist world)
  • In the Miso Soup (modern Japanese fiction)
  • I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK – film (being human)
  • Books about not fitting in

Picture credit: David van Dijk (composite)