Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata

Many lucky Japanese waving cat toys

Convenience Store Woman sticks two fingers up to fitting in. This is a book for misfits (and anyone with a taste for modern Japanese fiction).

Keiko is a misfit. At school she’s aware that 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.

This 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.”

Sayaka Murata, Convenience Store Woman, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori (2016)

Other books like Convenience Store Woman:
  • Cheese, by Willem Elsschot (absurdism, short books)
  • Good Morning, Midnight, by Jean Rhys (much darker take on middle age, women, misfits)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon (being unique in a conformist world)
  • In the Miso Soup, by Ryu Murukami (modern Japanese fiction)
  • I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK – film (being human)

Picture credit: Alain Pham