Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata 


Review by Nicole Louie

Convenience Store Woman tells the story of Keiko Furukura, a 36-year-old woman who has been working at a convenience store in Japan for 18 years. 

The novel is based on author Sayaka Murata’s experience working part-time at a convenience store and being considered a misfit in society for not investing in her education, getting a “proper job,” getting married or having children. In Murata’s story,  Keiko’s family, friends, and co-workers constantly make comments about her “wasted life” and never ask how she feels about it and if she wishes things were different.

Two forces fight vigorously in this book. One is Keiko’s incessant intent to skip all predefined milestones for women on earth, even when aware of the repercussions: This society hasn’t changed one bit. People who don’t fit into the village are expelled: men who don’t hunt, women who don’t give birth to children. For all we talk about modern society and individualism, anyone who doesn’t try to fit in can expect to be meddled with, coerced, and ultimately banished from the village.”

The other force wants to appear as a “normal cog in society” so she can stop being noticed for what she is not doing. As long as you wear the skin of what’s considered an ordinary person and follow the manual, you won’t be driven out of the village or treated as a burden.”

To blend in, Keiko works efficiently and copies her coworkers’ way of dressing and speaking. She even proposes cohabitation to a colleague equally uninterested in pursuing the scripted life, and they pretend to be married so they can seem more normal. 

We’re taken on Keiko’s journey of the tug of war between not being like most people and trying to pass as one so she can be left alone to live the life she wants. A life that does not include ambition, a wish to stand out, reach the top, or become a role model. She wants to live her own life while blending into Tokyo’s neon landscape. 

The further Keiko lets us into her life, readers may find it hard to keep reading.  At times closer to the end, I found myself wanting to meet Keiko on the way to the convenience store and shake her to snap her out of her isolation and self-imposed deprivation. Yet I realized I was feeling like those who judged her. Keiko doesn’t express discontent about her life; she is discontent about how others perceive it. 

This book acts as a mirror, reflecting back at us, who consider ourselves normal, while the one we deem abnormal retains astounding lucidity about herself and the state of things outside her door. Keiko experiences a world where people are happier thinking we are normal even if we have problems than accepting people who are abnormal and feel just fine. 

And that is just it: Keiko is fine. Her story discards our parameters for what’s considered normal, rejects conventional definitions of success, and dismisses our standards for womanhood. She will go her own way. And she expects us to do the same.


Thank you, Nicole!

Nicole Louie is a writer, translator, and content curator based in Ireland. She is dedicated to finding and sharing the stories of amazing women without children both online and in her upcoming non-fiction book on childlessness. She can be found on Twitter and on Instagram: @bynicolelouie.

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