Book Review: ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata

After seeing several rave reviews about this book, I downloaded a sample on my kindle (I love that you can sample the first chapters of books digitally before buying the whole thing. Perfect for our non-committal generation!).

I breezed through the first pages. The text has an upbeat tempo and really evokes a sensory experiences – I could almost feel the bright white lights of the aggressively clean shop and the beeps of the scanner. At one point, it felt so vivid that I had flashbacks to when I worked in a chocolate store. When you work in retail – spending hours and hours within a confined shop ecosystem – everything becomes muscle memory.

Katy Waldman described the book in the New Yorker as “a love story, in other words, about a misfit and a store.” The main character, Keiko Furukura, gives the store unconditional devotion and the convenience store – a haven of rules and regulations – gives her an incomparable sense of belonging and order.

I really enjoyed the quirkiness of this book and its blunt humour. It’s illustrated in the story that Keiko has difficulties connecting with people and understanding the world around her (it would be fair to assume that she is a person with autism). She often reads situations logically, but her struggle to interpret people often results in awkward (and sometimes cringeworthy) exchanges.

But you’re not lured in to pity her. Keiko’s interpretation of the world is like watching yourself back in real-time. It’s curious and entertaining to read her fervent analysis and negotiation of people, whilst trying to manage a situation. The book made me wonder about how ‘normalcy’ is determined and how uncomfortable we feel when it isn’t upheld.

If you also love Japanese convenient stores – with their incredible food variety, convenience (we’re talking about microwaves and boiling water in-store) and prevalence (they’re everywhere!), then this is worth reading purely for the setting and insider know-how.

Overall, it’s a short and effortlessly entertaining read. 4/5