Convenience Store Woman
by Sayaka Murata
translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
published in English by Grove Press (Grove Atlantic)
2016 (Japanese) / 2018 (English)
This is a compact, engrossing novel about a woman who has never quite fit into the rigid expectations of her family or society.
While convinced she is quite logical, Keiko sees that her behavior creates distress, especially for her beloved younger sister. Keiko learns to adjust her public self by mimicking those around her – their mannerisms, accents, clothing choices, figures of speech… And everyone seems satisfied and a bit flattered by how well she fits in – up to a point. Her continued work in a Japanese convenience store and single status remain unacceptable, though both suit her.
Ultimately, to appease her sister and others, she announces the end of her single status. The absurdity of misplaced satisfaction of those around her comes into the starkest possible relief.
The reviews I’ve read of this book discuss how “quirky” and “eccentric” the lead character is, but I suspect more. Those of us with friends ‘on the spectrum’ may read more into her viewpoints, and see Keiko as advocating for the liberation of neurodivergent people on their own terms.
It’s a great, short novel, and I love the frequency in which variations of ‘unnerving’ or ‘unsettling’ come up in the reviews!