Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is a bestseller and the first of her novels to be translated from Japanese into English. It tells the story of a thirty-six-year-old woman called Keiko Furukura. It’s an unusual tale focusing on a woman who has been mostly ostracised and seems to enjoy the regularity of her work in a convenience store, the Smile Mart.
Keiko finds it hard to fit into conventional society and her life is dominated by her job in a convenience store, where she has worked for 18 years. The few people who remain in her life have strong expectations and she feels that she should find another job and marry. This is despite her clear lack of desire for a romantic relationship and very strong indications that she enjoys working in the Smile Mart.
At the convenience store, Keiko meets a man called Shiraha. The second half of this novella focuses on Shiraha and his interactions with Keiko. He is a strange character – relatively poorly crafted and unconvincing. During the novel, a relationship of sorts, develops between the two of them. Ultimately though it’s hard to believe.
Convenience Store Woman does provide an absorbing commentary on Japanese society – predominantly its values and culture. This could have been expanded and was an opportunity to add more depth.
It is difficult to understand how Convenience Store Woman has met with such a positive reception. There are moments of greatness within this short novel but they are fleeting. Overall, it felt relatively mundane and disappointing albeit with an interesting protagonist, Keiko. Perhaps, had the story been longer it would have enabled greater development of Keiko’s character. As it stands, this wasn’t for me.