Convenience Store Woman
Publisher: Granta Books
Pub Date (Original): 27 July 2016
Genre: Translated Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Keiko is 36 years old. She’s never had a boyfriend, and she’s been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years.
Keiko’s family wishes she’d get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won’t get married.
But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she’s not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store…
⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS
TL;DR: I think I’m coming in with a slightly unpopular opinion here but I know I’m one of very few who didn’t fall in love with this book. Convenience Store Woman ended up being just okay for me and I was slightly disappointed because I think I was expecting more. Keiko is an interesting character who does stand out after having read this book and while I agreed with the social commentary, I don’t think this will stick with me in the long run. Still, this was a well-written and engaging novella and I’m not mad that I gave it a try—I’m only sad that I didn’t love it as much as everyone else seemed to!
Hmm… I’m not quite sure how I feel about this but based on all the 5-star reviews from fellow book lovers, I know I’m very much in the minority with my feelings! To me, this was just okay. I enjoyed the translation and didn’t struggle with any part of it while reading, plus, from the moment I picked it up, I wanted to keep reading and I ended up finishing it on the short plane ride from Bali to Jakarta.
Our main character, Keiko, is admittedly weird, uncannily funny, and simply wired differently from everyone else. For all of her life, she’s been unable to understand social and emotional cues and has taken to absorbing personalities from the people she surrounds herself with at her workplace, the Smile Mart outside Hiiromachi Station. She’s worked at this convenience store for 18 years because it’s the only place she doesn’t feel like a social outcast but rather a “normal” functioning member of society. I enjoyed and related to the social commentary about the sociocultural ideas and expectations of happiness and success that are imposed upon us by society. As someone who’s also in her mid-thirties is unattached and doesn’t have children, I really sympathised with Keiko’s situation—people just can’t leave well enough alone and I hate that people feel the need to “fix” you just because you don’t fit their perception of what a person should or shouldn’t be. The introduction of the “incel” character was both disgusting and infuriating and I wanted to shake Keiko for letting such a person in her life but ultimately, this person’s presence helped her see that there’s no point in trying to be anyone other than yourself.
I also enjoyed the slice-of-life aspect of the story and learning more about life in Japan, but I especially liked the convenience store setting. It was so vividly depicted and I could so easily picture the stark white setting, all the foods, drinks and other conveniences lined up in perfect order on the shelves and situated around the store. It was actually a very comforting and somewhat soothing setting and that could also be a reflection of Keiko’s perception of the store.
Ultimately, I think what I struggled with was the lack of emotional connection to the story and to Keiko. I don’t know if it was intentionally written that way because of how unattached and unaware her character was, but it made it tough to feel much of anything and that connection is an important factor for me as a reader. It could also be the simplicity and brevity of the writing—this is a pretty straightforward novella and though I appreciated that about it, I think I also expected to feel more from it. It’s definitely not a bad read as basically everyone else loved it, but I personally don’t know if it’s one that will stick out for me in the long run.
Have you read Convenience Store Woman or is it on your TBR?